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The Soloist
3 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Joe Wright

Written By:
Susannah Grant, Steve Lopez

Cast:
Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Jamie Foxx, Tom Hollander, Stephen Root, Nelsan Ellis, Rachael Harris, Angela Featherstone, Justin Martin, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Meggan Anderson, Matt Besser, Alejandro Patino, Justin Rodgers Hall, Hallie Lambert, Maggie Wagner, Lejla Hadzimuratovic, Troy Blendell, Franklin Ruehl, Rob Nagle, Kai Nuuhiwa, Pete Brown, Marissa Ghavami, Ingrid Coree, Kitty Kreidler, Holly Sherman, Richard Hansen, Ricky Marciano, Wally Lozano, Pete Ilarius, Heather La Bella, Aurelius DiBarsanti, Susane Lee, David Jean Thomas, Paul Edney, Karmyn Tyler, Robyn Jean Springer, Sharon Savene, Troy Williams, Jeff Sutherland, Ilia Volok, Ilia Volok, Michael Bunin, Paul Greenberg, Lemon, Ralph Cole Jr., Joshua Cabrera, Artel Great, George Meyers, Edward Kiniry-Ostro, Annie McKnight, Joe Hernandez-Kolski, Patrick Tatten, Paul Cruz, Kirsten Lea, Michael Maddigan, Charlie Weirauch, Marcos De Silvas, Jules Sanchez, Lauren E. Gates, Halbert Bernal, Jayce Bradley, Francesca Kortesmaki, Palma Lawrence Reed, Therese Kortesmaki, S. Zev Esquenazi, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Janaya Sultze, Valentyna Svyatchenko

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The Soloist (2009)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
April 28th, 2009

"The Soloist' is probably being set up as Oscar bait; though it is simply not good enough to earn Best Picture. I suppose it could aim for the acting category, as it features two outstanding performances from Robert Downey Jr and Jamie Foxx; we expect good work form Downey, and Foxx, following on his turn as Ray Charles, where he learned to play piano from Charles himself; here, he supposedly took violin lessons, to make the role seem as authentic as possible. And it pays off.

Foxx is Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless musician, and former Juilliard student, with a particular passion and talent for Beethoven. He becomes the subject of a story by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Downey), who stumbles upon Ayers in a courtyard, and later, beneath an underpass, strumming his two-stringed violin.

Lopez is intrigued by Ayers, as I suppose anyone would be; he plays with stirring emotion, and Lopez starts to dig into his past, asking about his tenure at Juilliard, and contacting his estranged sister, Jennifer (Lisa Gay Hamilton). Jennifer is worried about her brother, has not heard from him in years, and is genuinely surprised when Lopez calls her, presuming that he is going to tell her that Nathaniel is dead.

We get a flashback of Nathaniel as a young boy, where he displays a gift for the cello; Lopez's article about Ayers inspires an elderly woman to send her cello to Nathaniel, free of charge, and Nathaniel is floored by the generous gesture, but Lopez makes it clear that Nathaniel can only have access to it if he checks into the LAMP facility, for the homeless and disabled; Lopez hopes that this will help Nathaniel, but then realizes that Nathaniel may sadly be beyond help. Nathaniel is probably schizophrenic, at least that seems to be the movie's diagnosis, and he is far more troubled than he initially appears; so much so he cannot really function in the real world, or engage in normal methods of human interaction.

Mental illness is handled delicately here, but not explored all that deeply, though Foxx offers a restrained, multifaceted portrayal; his Nathaniel has a tendency to be maddeningly stubborn and unpredictable, but he always has our sympathy, mainly because he cannot truly comprehend the extent of his sickness, and will probably never get proper treatment.

The film examines the friendship between Ayers and Lopez, a friendship Lopez commits to wholeheartedly, in an earnest attempt to improve Nathaniel's life. It also deals with the transformative, or unifying, power of music. Downey is mostly flawless; he manages to be funny here, at least in a few early scenes, those following Steve's fairly awful bike accident, which leaves about half of his face badly scarred and bruised.

I felt that there was an unnecessary and distracting preoccupation with urine; we see Steve drop a cup full of urine, and later, he spills a bag of coyote urine on himself, while trying to tie it up in his yard on the suggestion of a neighbor. I cannot recall the exact purpose. Catherine Keener is also very good, as Mary Weston, Steve's co-worker, and ex-wife. The LAMP scenes add credibility and immediacy to the movie, and what a sublime score from Dario Marianelli. There is also something to be said about the declining influence of newspapers in the 21st century. Mostly solid drama.

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