Studio: Paramount Home Video
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Stephen Root
Director: Joe Wright
Release Date: August 2, 2009, 2:37 pm
Rating: PG-13 for (thematic elements, some drug use and language)
Run Time: 01h:57m:02s
ìIím sorryÖthere is something very wrong with this world.î - Curt Reynolds (Stephen Root)
Movie Grade: B-
DVD Grade: A
Jamie Foxx enjoyed a semi-illustrious career early on thanks to a series of comedic roles. Then, following an eye-opening performance in Michael Mannís Collateral, Foxx took the world by storm with his Oscar- winning performance as Ray Charles in the aptly-titled Ray. Now an established dramatic actor, Foxx keeps the biopic ball rolling by starring in The Soloist, the story of a real homeless man who is also a musical genius. The film was notoriously delayed from a pre-Oscar-eligibility-date, late 2008 release, and unceremoniously dumped in the early Spring of 2009. Unfortunately, itís easy to see why the studio lost faith in its Oscar potential, as, while the performances are inarguably strong, the film is extremely uneven, often meandering and never really finding any real footing.
Thereís little doubt that the story of schizophrenic homeless Nathanial Ayers (Foxx) is a compelling one, but director Joe Wright (the brilliant Atonement) doesnít quite push the right buttons in his telling of it. Ayers was spotted one day in the streets of Los Angeles playing his cello by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.). Lopez was instantly drawn to him, sensing that there was truly something special about this talented musician. At the same time, he also saw the amazing potential for a prize-worthy story. Itís this possible internal conflict faced by Lopez that Wright barely touches upon, which clearly prevents the film from being more emotionally compelling than it is.
This is an extremely dark and dreary film, and itís to Wrightís credit that he avoided injecting such a story with sappy Hollywood-friendly melodrama. Instead, he does a fine job delving into the psyche of Ayers, sometimes literally taking us into his head while he becomes immersed in music. Of course, Foxx makes us care about Ayers a great deal, as he avoids going the over-the-top when such a thing is easy to slip into. One of Foxxís biggest achievements here, however, is overcoming his rather scary hair and overall appearance. While Iím not sure that such a thing detracts from the movie, per say, but it sure as heck kept me (and probably many others) from wanting to check the film out in theaters.
The film doesnít settle for focusing on Foxxís character though; finding equal time to allow the always-great Downey Jr. to shine as well. And shine he does, delivering a solid, moving performance similar to those heís given throughout his career. This is a step back from Iron Man and Tropic Thunder, but only in that Steve Lopez isnít as high-profile of a character. Without Foxx and Downey Jr. on board, Wrightís The Soloist wouldnít be the above average biopic that it is, but their powerful work propels it beyond a weak script and off-balance direction. Paramountís Blu-ray release is an excellent one, thanks to exceptional audio and video presentations. The extras collection is surprisingly good as well, with deleted scenes and a handful of featurettes/documentaries that include a look at the real Ayers and Lopez.
Chuck Aliaga August 2, 2009, 2:37 pm