Oct 7 2009 by Ian Bunting, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
THE Soloist is based on the true story of Nathaniel Ayers (played by Jamie Foxx), a mentally ill, homeless street musician who possesses a great musical gift, despite having to use broken instruments.
Nathaniel is discovered by Los Angeles Times journalist Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downey Jr.) The two men quickly form a bond as Steve writes several stories about Nathaniel and tries to bring about a better standard of life for the LA homeless.
Everything about The Soloist screams: “Give me an Oscar.” We’ve got a true story, a hard-luck story, a flawed genius, mental health issues, a man on a mission, Atonement director Joe Wright and Jamie Foxx, who has been down this road before with 2004’s Ray. But is it a film that deserves to be prominent during the awards season?
The answer is... not really. The Soloist is a good film but no better than many others this year. It also suffers from an uneven tone. The early newsroom scenes with a wise-cracking Downey Jr. feel like a comedy. Later, a conversation between homeless drug users is followed by Downey Jr. ‘battling’ with coyote urine.
Foxx gives an undeniably powerful performance as Nathaniel. Delivering machine gun-like, quick-fire dialogue, he feels a bit forced at times. He does, though, utter the film’s best line; “I used to sleep on Wall Street but it’s too dirty.”
Downey Jr. is riding high on the wave of career resuscitation after last year’s Tropic Thunder and Iron Man and he is also very good. His teary scene rates as the best emotional moment of the film but the intriguing relationship between him and ex-wife Mary (played by the superb Catherine Keener) isn’t fully explored.
The movie uses sound and silence very well. Two great examples are a flaming car passing Nathaniel’s window in a flashback during the race-riots and Steve jumping into his fancy car to escape the sights and sounds of the homeless around him. This is a perfect way of showing two different worlds.
The voices in Nathaniel’s head give us an insight into how frustrating life must be for him but there are too many scenes with people sitting listening to him play. A sequence with neon colours on screen while an orchestra performs is also quite strange, and hard on the eyes.
I liked how Steve was shown ignoring huge events like Hurricane Katrina, and also redundancies at the newspaper, as it displayed how consumed he was by Nathaniel’s story.
The Soloist, inevitably, moves into over-schmaltzy territory but the two leads mean it is always watchable.
It’s not quite music to the ears but it’s no one hit wonder either.
Rating - 6 out of 10.