Monday, May 4, 2009

THE SOLOIST (2009)

Written by Susannah Grant


Directed by Joe Wright



Where & When: Los Feliz 3, Los Angeles, CA May 3, 2009 4:20 PM


"The Soloist" is a touching drama based on a real-life story about two very different men who unwittingly help each other reconnect to something they have both lost while at the same time forging an unlikely friendship.

We first meet Los Angeles Times reporter, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) cycling through the Hollywood hills when he crashes face first in to the cold concrete. After he is bandaged up, he is struggling to find the story for his next article for the paper. It doesn't help that he is also under pressure for the article by his editor (the great Catherine Keener) who also happens to be his ex-wife. It appears that the marriage ended due to his inability to open himself up enough to let her in to his life.

One day, he hears music coming from the street where he discovers a homeless man playing a violin that only has two strings. This gentleman is named Nathaniel Anthony Ayers who is brilliantly played by Jaime Foxx. Nathaniel appears to be schizophrenic and when he mentions he had attended Julliard, Steve thinks he has found his story.

He write the column about Nathaniel which inspires a reader to donate a cello she is no longer able to play. This sparks a plan by Steve to assist in making Nathaniel's life better. Steve wants to help Nathaniel by telling his story to the world while trying to get him off the streets. This is not as easy as it may seem because Steve has to deal with the obstacles of institutional bureaucracies as well as the complications and the unpredictability of Nathaniel's illness. A true friendship forms by Steve allowing himself to truly connect with another person while Nathaniel finds someone who he believes is actually trying to help bring him back into society.

How Nathaniel ended up on the streets is told in a series of flashbacks cut throughout the film. We find out how the disease slowly took over him starting when he was a child until he finally loses the battle while attending college. Steve finds Nathaniel has a sister (Lisa Gay Hamilton) who was unaware of what had happened to him. We find out she did the best she could for him but Nathaniel's problems were really more than she could really handle on her own.

We are taken inside of Nathaniel's head to help us have some kind of understanding of what he is going through. This is not entirely successful and the worst part was when Nathaniel was listening to the LA Philharmonic rehearse and all we see accompanying the music on the screen is flashing colored lights. This went on for way too long and found myself more irritated by this than any thing else. I understood completely the joy and the pain Nathaniel received from the music by listening and watching him.

This moving film is filled with many really strong performances especially from the leads, Mr. Foxx and Mr. Downey Jr. I have admired the work of the British director Joe Wright and have enjoyed his previous films like, "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement". And he has made another exceptional film. If you liked those films, you will not be disappointed. "The Soloist" helped make me more aware of how I tend not to always see the many homeless men and women on the streets who ended up there certainly not by choice but by unfortunate circumstances.