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The Soloist (2009)

Life has a mind of its own

Starring:

Catherine Keener

Jamie FoxxJamie Foxx

Justin Martin

Lisa Gay Hamilton

Lorraine Toussaint

Nelsan Ellis

Rachael Harris

Robert Downey Jr

Tom Hollander

Directed by:

Joe Wright

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 117 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12A

Mental illness, poverty and self-discovery tick every box on the Oscar contender checklist as The Soloist screams ‘I’m so poignant – give me an Oscar!’ over the soothing notes of the cello. Maybe it is a little heavyhanded and preachy and perhaps it does categorise between Us and Them a little too easily but none of this matters because underneath lurks a worthy, beautifully made film with two stand-out performances.

Steve Lopez (Downey Jr.) is a down-on-his-luck Los Angeles journalist searching for a story when he happens upon homeless classically trained musician Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx). Nathaniel is an emotionally unstable schizophrenic with an obsession with Beethoven more disturbing than A Clockwork Orange’s Alex – what is it with Luwig Van attracting the unsound? Lopez’s article on this cello-playing street musician captures the public’s imagination and saves his job. Wanting to do a follow up piece he begins to visit Nathaniel regularly and becomes torn between how best to help him, be it medical or material aid or good old-fashioned friendship. The directing is excellent as we get a nice medley of unconventional views of Los Angeles and it succeeds with the daunting task of making a man playing the cello a riveting experience. The story is also punctuated by genuinely funny understated humour throughout.

It’s good to see the dark underbelly of Los Angeles and its ninety thousand homeless replacing the city’s usual glamourous façade. The main homeless district is dauntingly recreated (however, Lopez manages to leave his car in the homeless district completely unscathed on many occasions) and we meet many unsettling characters, consisting of an array of drug addicts, the mentally ill and those down on their luck.

It’s refreshing to see Jamie Foxx showing that if you play Russian roulette with your career, occasionally, there isn’t a role that blows your credibility out of your cranium and onto the floor. This role as the babbling but loveable down-and-out brings him back towards his best Oscar-winning Ray Charles form. Robert Downey Jr. hardly exerts himself as his customary fast-talking, flawed but likeable journalist but that is just what’s needed to complement Foxx’s eccentric and completely nonsensical musician.

Alternatives:

A Beautiful Mind, In Pursuit of Happiness, Ray

Summary

This fascinating character study amongst the underbelly of Los Angeles powerfully drowns out any cheesy sentimentality.