I have to confess I had never heard of THE SOLOIST, directed by Joe Wright who made ATONEMENT, and which gets its belated Swedish premiere on December 11 – it opened in the U.S. in April already. How come it took so long for it to reach these shores? After all, it’s a Universal/Dreamworks production starring Robert Downey, Jr and Jamie Foxx.
Well, in short, this is the music version of RAIN MAN.
THE SOLOIST is based on a book by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, who after having a bicycle accident in the beginning of the movie (come to think of it, this accident has nothing to do with the story to follow) runs into the homeless Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx), who’s playing a violin in front of a statue of Beethoven. Lopez smells a story – a homeless man who’s a musical genius?
Lopez starts digging in the life of the peculiar Ayers and helps him getting a home and with his music practicing. It turns out Ayers suffers from schizophrenia, and because of this, he dropped out of his studies at Julliard; he’s unpredictable and is totally succumbed by his music, and he keeps on babbling long, complicated sentences.
Jamie Foxx goes for a so-called “Oscar performance”. This role has everything it takes to get an Academy Award: Ayers is talented, he has a mental illness, he’s an outcast and he’s black. Foxx shows off his whole repertoire. And no, it’s not very fun. It almost turns into a parody of Oscar winning performances. No, he’s not bad, but I can’t say I care about his character.
Robert Downey is of course excellent. But then, he’s one of the best actors of his generation, and one of the very best working to today, generally speaking. And the fact that he – despite his chaotic private life – is a sympathetic and fun person doesn’t hurt.
THE SOLOIST contains many authentic images from the world of the homeless in Los Angeles – I guess many of the extras are homeless for real. There are 90,000 of them in L.A.
The problem with Wright’s movie, is that it lacks in charm. I liked the fact that it kind of looks like a production from the 1970s, even though it takes place today, but it’s missing that special thing that would make it stand out. The subject may be important, but the movie never really engages me. And I think the flashbacks to Ayers’ childhood are superfluous.
Catherine Keener is also in this reality based drama, and THE SOLOIST is, well, okay, but that’s just about it. But we should be happy it wasn’t directed by Spielberg and starred Tom Hanks; that combination would have meant an orgy of overblown, tear filled melodrama.
Funny detail: in TROPIC THUNDER, Robert Downey’s character jokes about playing retarded and getting an Oscar.