Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Soloist (***)

The Soloist.  109 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Joe Wright.  Written By Susannah Grant.  Starring Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey, Jr., and Catherine Keener.

Though it has all the makings of an awards season contender, and it features two outstanding performances from Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr., something feels a bit off with The Soloist.  Based on a series of real life columns by journalist Steve Lopez (Downey, Jr.) about a homeless, schizophrenic musical prodigy who dropped out of Juilliard (Foxx), the movie focuses, more or less, on the two's burgeoning friendship.  And while it doesn't play by the typical narrative rules of the feel-good genre, that's both a good thing and a bad thing.  The good: Downey and Foxx are given a lot of space to show their stuff - both actors are at the top of their game here, and the movie flirts with but never stoops to any overly sentimental goopiness.  The bad: The Soloist fails to engage on an emotional level.  There is a whole middle section of the movie (a good 20 minutes or so) where Downey's character explores the homeless underbelly of L.A., and it leads one to think that the movie has a bigger story on its mind and that Foxx's character is just an entry point to that story.  But that subplot is soon jettisoned and we're back to focusing on just Foxx's mental illness and Downey's struggles to connect with him.  My favorite part of the movie is a scene where Foxx and Downey see a rehearsal performance from a symphony orchestra.  Foxx is so taken with the Beethoven music that's being played that he just tunes out to everything else around him, and it's at that point that director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) takes the screen to black and just shows a bunch of brightly colored images moving in time with the music.  It's a bold, beautiful moment (very Kubrick-esque), and it will probably piss off just as many audience members as it pleases.  The Soloist is disappointing in that it has everything going for it, but never really gains any traction.  Downey and Foxx are deserving of awards recognition here, but I seriously doubt anyone will remember The Soloist come Oscar time.



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