Friday, 7 August 2009

The Soloist - A Review

For the record I did not want to see The Soloist. Not because Joe Wright is one of my favourite up and coming directors; not because I think Robert Downey Jr. gave one of my favourite superhero performances of this century last year in Iron Man and definitely because it had Catherine Keener is one of my favourite undervalued actresses in Hollywood right now. I mean it wasn’t because the reviews were not that positive. To be honest I’d never read specific review of the film, for some reason beyond my comprehension the film just did not appeal to me. I knew no director could make three great films in a row, so I didn’t bother to investigate. Well, I finally got around to seeing it two nights ago.

Before I get to the good of the film [and there’s a lot of that], I think I’ll examine why I think this film has gotten generally lukewarm reviews. The main problem with The Soloist is that it’s too clean. Not the script, and not the acting really – but the look of the film, the set decoration, the costumes – it’s just all two clean and stylised. The bricks on the roads seem spotless, the beggars’ clothes seem old but very clean nevertheless. When Joe Wright directed his first film, Pride and Prejudice, there was an outcry of shock in the literary world because he had made the Bennet home homey and dirty, something never found in typical period pieces. In The Soloist it’s the opposite, the d├ęcor is altogether way to pristine and for some time it detracts from the realism of the film. But I think I’m getting ahead of myself. The Soloist is a film inspired by the true story of Nathaniel Ayers [Jamie Foxx] a gifted musician of sorts stricken with a mental disorder. He finds himself thrustec into the spotlight upon a chance encounter with a reporter – Steve Lopez played by Downey Jr.

A film like this depends for the most part on the acting, and the acting is good. I like Robert Downey Jr. and he was effective as Lopez the LA Times reporter. It wasn’t exactly a big stretch as a role; but he managed to make the character interesting with little material to actually go on. They say that sometimes acting is simply reacting and for the most part that is what Robert Downey Jr. had to do. He has to react to Fox’s character. In a way, he represents the portal through which the audience is able to regard Nathaniel. And he’s successful. Speaking of Fox, he gives what I believe is his best performance ever in this movie. I don’t like Fox, I never did and for the first few minutes of his screen time I will admit that I was doubtful of his casting. I was not feeling him and I was wishing that Don Cheadle had gotten the role… but as he went on he got better and sometimes he was even amazing. There were a few moments when I felt that he was playing it like a sketch comedy but then there were some moments that had me astounded.

In this Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Fox showcase there is not much room for anyone else to shine, but Catherine Keener puts up a hell of front. Every movie I see I love this woman more and more. She didn’t really have much of a role playing Lopez’s ex-wife who wasn’t quit willing to let go. Surprisingly the chemistry with her and Downey Jr. was authentic. This movie had me wishing she’d get a leading role in a movie, or at least a strong supporting one. It’s not that the role wasn’t large enough, because she has done small roles well before [Capote anyone?], but the writing in this film was not up to that level. Sometimes the script got overly indulgent and it never wanted to take a side. I don’t know Steve Lopez, but for such a big time reporter he seemed very soft. Not as an insult, but I felt he’d be more sharklike amd sometimes the writing felt like a documentary. There wasn’t a side, we were just given the facts and said ‘look. This is it’. That could have also been a fault of Wright, but I am partial.

Before I talk you off a cliff, let me close. This was a good film and it deserves your time. Owing to the absolutely capricious nature of a little guy named scar, I don’t know if or rather I doubt that we will be seeing this at the Kodak come February. But it wouldn’t be an unworthy contender, I suppose the directing race will be too strong… but the acting deserves some recognition. It is the worst film Wright has done and he wasn’t nominated for the better too… that being said though I thought his other two were outstanding so that’s not saying much. Check this out it’s a good one.

B

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