Published Apr 23, 2009Jamie Foxx stars as the titular soloist, Nathaniel Ayres, a gifted cellist with mental health issues who's "discovered" by L.A. Times journalist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.). Lopez finds the homeless Ayres playing a two-stringed violin underneath a statue of Beethoven and decides to dedicate a column to the colourful and talented stranger. One column turns into two and slowly the situation snowballs out of control until Lopez is bringing the guy a cello, trying to get him an apartment and lobbying to get him psychiatric treatment.
As Lopez gains public recognition for his work with Ayres, Catherine Keener (as his editor and ex-wife, Mary) is there to remind him to take full responsibility for a situation he's created. Now that Lopez has stirred things up and turned his new friend's life upside down, he's stuck with him and the first tentative connection eventually develops into a genuine bond.
Unfortunately, Foxx's performance as the schizophrenic musical genius only strikes one note: inaccessible mumbling guy. He's unable to connect with anything except his music, and the reaction from Lopez is frequently one of frustration (an emotion I shared).
As an account of a journalist's investigation into how a Julliard-educated musician ends up on the streets, the film is compelling. As an emotional journey into the mind of a broken man and his reluctant saviour (complete with childhood flashbacks), it's mawkish, like an Oscar-baiting made-for-TV-movie. The comic relief moments are funny but odd — director Wright seems determined to douse Robert Downey Jr. in pee for a laugh.
Some strangely impressionistic sequences of birds in flight, L.A. landscapes and an experimental, Stan Brakhage-esque montage of flashing coloured lights were undoubtedly intended to get us into Ayres's mindset and allow us to experience the music more viscerally and intimately but they seem awkwardly out of place in the film's otherwise totally traditional narrative.
The Soloist is a curious mishmash of styles that, because it's based on a true story, suffers from the fact that real life isn't chock full of tidy endings. Reality keeps on going anticlimactically and the film's forced moral-of-the-story conclusion only serves to oversimplify a tale about a guy whose life and problems are actually quite complex. (Dreamworks/Paramount)