Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Briefly: The Soloist (2009)

The Soloist's version of Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) is divorced. The real Steve Lopez is happily married. The film, it would seem, has as tenuous a grip on reality as its schizophrenic subject. That man would be Nathanial Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a Julliard trained cellist who succumbs to mental illness and winds up living on the streets of Los Angeles, where he gets discovered and nurtured by Lopez. Contrary to its title, The Soloist is more duet than solo, with Downey and Foxx equally but uncomfortably sharing the film. It isn't that either gives a bad performances as they strike dissonant rather than consonant notes; Downey works a very stripped-down minimalist angle that clashes with Foxx's more demonstrative, heavy-handed approach. Both could work; they just don't work together. The film is handsome and well-intentioned and quite good at evoking the anxiety-ridden world of the deadline writer. But the characters, who never mesh all that well to begin with, are ultimately drowned out by preachy messages about homelessness, messages that are somewhat hard to swallow given the film's unnecessarily lavish budget, reportedly in the neighborhood of $60 million. The film's final title card informs us that 90,000 people live homeless in Los Angeles. Why not just give the $60 million to them?



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