Thursday, September 10, 2009

Home Video: The Soloist

The Soloist
Directed by Joe Wright
Released April 24, 2009

Last year when previews first premiered for this movie, it had a lot of buzz and was slated for a smartly-timed fall release. Then it was suddenly pushed back to the depths of the spring, the worst time to launch a highly anticipated film, and it came and went with little hoopla. I missed it during this theatrical release, and therefore opted to rent it as soon as it came out on DVD to renewed buzz. I suppose it’s not much of a surprise, then, that it wasn’t anything too special.

Joe Wright’s previous credits include romance-fueled period pieces “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement.” He’s very talented in that particular field, and this movie branches out from his particular comfort zone into entirely new territory. It shouldn’t come as much of a shock that it’s not nearly as fine-tuned or well-crafted as either of those well-regarded films, and it’s far less enticing. To begin with, two male leads without much in the way of romantic connections aren’t a great starting point, and the story is set mostly in the present. The flashbacks to talented musician Nathaniel Ayers’ childhood seem to be Wright’s way of coping with the story being set in the present day, but all those scenes feel horribly out of place. The most unfortunate part of all this is that the movie’s based on a true story. A notable director with two high-profile actors in a movie based on real life should be a recipe for success. Sadly, that’s just not the case here.

It’s understandable that a movie about a musician would devote an enormous chunk of itself to showcasing the performer at work or thinking about his life in terms of music. Watching the mentally disturbed Ayers sit down and play magnificently isn’t immensely gratifying because it’s obvious that he’ll be talented. Perhaps discovering it in reality might have been pretty incredible, but it doesn’t translate to the screen. Portraying mental illness on film has also been done to far more incredible effect in movies like “Rain Man” and “A Beautiful Mind.” L.A. Times reporter Steve Lopez may have thought Nathaniel Ayers’ story was worthwhile, but the movie doesn’t really demonstrate what’s so special about their relationship, and it’s not nearly as meaningful or evocative as it could be.

Robert Downey Jr. has recently experienced a career comeback after struggling with drug addiction. His less-than-life-changing bike injury seems extremely similar to his real-life story, and therefore it’s as if the actor is playing his disgruntled, post-crisis self. That said, he’s not a very compelling character, and it seems that a story about just Nathaniel might have made for a better movie. Jamie Foxx also had a great streak a few years ago with great performances in “Collateral” and “Ray,” and while he’s not terrible in this film, it’s not as good as the likes of, well, Dustin Hoffman and Russell Crowe. Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison, but this film just doesn’t have much to offer, and its stars don't quite deliver.


1 comment:

Andrew K. said...

Totally understand your review, but I gave this a B+. Oh well. Good review though.