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Apr212009

The Soloist

Whoever edited the trailer to the new Robert Downey Jr./Jamie Foxx movie, The Soloist, deserves a raise. It looked stunning, perfectly edited to give the viewer a simultaneous sense of hope and awe, making it seem like a surefire Oscar contender. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the final product doesn't reflect the trailer. The Soloist is a huge disappointment, not particularly bad, but nothing worth wasting your time on.

While wandering around the streets of Los Angeles, journalist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) runs into Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a musician with mental problems, and finds out he used to be in Juilliard, but left for unknown reasons. Ayers now lives on the street playing a violin with only two strings despite his undeniable talents. Struggling for story ideas, Lopez decides to write a piece on Ayers. Along the way, a friendship is kindled and Lopez does anything he can to help Ayers see his potential and achieve his dream of playing music.

On paper, this story premise sounds great--a down on his luck journalist befriends a mentally ill, homeless music lover and helps him achieve greatness. What's not to like? It's a touching idea, one that people the world over should be able to appreciate. After all, music is a universal language. But it lacks the intrinsic emotion connecting the characters and viewers that most good dramas have.

Instead of playing Ayers' disease as a serious illness to be cared for, the film mostly uses it as a means for humor. At times, it treated Ayers like a spectacle rather than a human being with real problems. By doing this, it squandered the potential for real emotion.

When emotion did seep through, it felt manufactured. At one point in the movie, Ayers sits in on an orchestral rehearsal. Rather than letting me see his affection for the music, allowing for character growth and an emotional connection, the film literally became a light show, resorting to visual trickery, with flashing colors illuminating the screen. Foxx is a good enough actor to show the many emotions that would undoubtedly be flowing through this unstable man, but the filmmakers foolishly decided that gimmicks would work better. Nearly every opportunity for real dramatic tension was wasted. By the time the film actually allowed the actors to do their jobs, I no longer cared.

It's really a shame because the acting is quite good. Robert Downey Jr. is excellent as always, but Jamie Foxx deserves the most accolades. Although his character is questionably written, sometimes undeserving of sympathy and edging on the brink of psychosis, he eventually won me over with his heartfelt and realistic performance. It's one of those rare occasions where you stop seeing the actor and start seeing the character he is playing.

The Soloist is beautifully narrated through the stories Lopez is writing about Ayers, but the problem with the film isn't the story or the way it's told. It's the problematic stylistic choices and wasted dramatic opportunities that disconnect the viewer from what is unfolding onscreen. If the trailer interests you, go watch it again. You'll get more out of it.

The Soloist receives 2/5

Reader Comments (1)

it makes sense that they would Robert Downey Jr. as a intellectual/journalist type, he was a similar character in Zodiac

April 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCoffee Maker

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