The Soloist
dir Joe Wright
scr Susannah Grant
prd Gary Foster, Russ Krasnoff
with Robert Downey Jr, Jamie Foxx, Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander, LisaGay Hamilton, Nelsan Ellis, Justin Martin, Stephen Root, Rachael Harris, Lorraine Toussaint, Kokayi Ampah, Patrick Tatten
release US 24.Apr.09, UK 25.Sep.09
09/US DreamWorks-Universal 1h57
The Soloist
Making beautiful music: Downey and Foxx

keener hollander wright
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Soloist A genuinely moving story is wrung dry by filmmaking that strains to punch every emotional plot point. Solid performances and some edgy insight can't quite rescue it, although the extraordinary true events retain real power.

Steve Lopez (Downey) is a newspaper columnist who spots a homeless guy playing violin in the street and senses a story in there. Nathaniel (Foxx) turns out to be a Julliard-trained cellist with schizophrenia, which Steve finds out from Nathaniel's sister (Hamilton). Steve also learns about both homelessness and mental illness, but figuring out how to help Nathaniel is more of a challenge. He agrees to take lessons from a cello master (Hollander), but can he hold it together long enough to perform with an orchestra?

This is a remarkable story, and as a director Wright cleverly undercuts the script's sentimentality with sheer realism. The film's portrayal of both homelessness and mental illness is complex and provocative, constantly challenging preconceptions. Wright also develops a warm, dry tone that perfectly matches Downey's personality, most notably in his interaction with the always-terrific Keener. Downey is excellent in the role, fully engaging us as a flawed man who's trying to be a good neighbour but is unsure how to get it right.

His chemistry with Foxx crackles as they warily circle each other. There's a clear developing friendship here that follows a slight rom-com path with multiple barriers along the way, but both characters still resonate strongly. And while it's clear that Foxx has done serious research in how to effectively play this character, down to remarkable details, it's a shame the filmmakers indulge so much in lighting and sounds that attempt to visualise what's going on inside his head.

And this continues throughout the film, with slightly overlong flashbacks and side-plots, constant signposting, insistent music (by Dario Marianelli), and too many flourishes to Seamus McGarvey's gorgeous widescreen cinematography. At one point, this ramps up to a point where the magical power of music is actually portrayed on screen as soaring on the wings of, erm, pigeons. Wright's direction is bold and often very beautiful, but he's trying so hard to be achingly worthy that the story comes across as being far-fetched, even though it's true. But the central point is so important that the film is still worth seeing.

cert 12 themes, language, violence, drugs 28.Jul.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall