Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Jamie Foxx, Catherine
Keener, Stephen Root, Justin Martin
Sometimes, no matter how hard you want to like a movie, it just
isn’t in the cards. Everything I’d heard about The
Soloist talked about an L.A. Times columnist who met
someone who changed him, and then his columns rippled out and affected
so many others. How, as a journalist, could I not love that?
The Soloist starts as muddled and confused as a morning
editorial meeting in the newspaper office it tries to portray. Even
from the beginning, the movie’s focus was unclear. We meet
Steve Lopez, whose portrayal by Robert
Downey, Jr. was the brightest idea in the filmmakers’
heads, in his hectic newsroom life. Already, the world feels flat,
especially because clearly the only thing known about newspapers
is that they are undergoing layoffs. Let me hold my applause.
Lopez's quest for the great column thrusts him into Nathaniel
Anthony Ayers, played by Jamie Foxx. I’m
not sure how to feel about Foxx’s performance. It vacillated
from being convincing to playing on a stereotype. Still, I think
it felt like Downey and Foxx were trapped good actors struggling
to persuade the audience that what we were watching was going to
make us feel something. I’m not sure even they were convinced.
The Soloist tosses together elements that all have dramatic
cues, starting with the fact that this movie is based on a true
story. Yet I feel like the real Steve Lopez’s columns would
paint a more poignant picture than this mishmash of bizarre scenes,
flashing from the present back to Ayers’ adolescence. While
Ayers is an interesting figure, the movie, as we say in news, “buried
the lead.” The relationship between Lopez and Ayers is important,
but not so important as to neglect the fact that because he met
Ayers, both the real and fictional Lopez became champions of Skid
Row, and urged the city to clean up those areas. It’s brought
up twice in the movie, then never mentioned again, even in the end.
The struggle of the two main characters’ relationship was
apparently even too much for the filmmakers, who felt the need to
inject random bits of comedy throughout the movie. All well and
good until you realize this movie includes two jokes where Robert
Downey, Jr. comes in contact with pee. I had no idea this movie
was produced by Nickelodeon.
What the movie does lack in many other areas, it makes up for in
the subtle beauty of its sound editing, as any movie prominently
featuring music should. Beyond just the bevy of classical music
pieces in the movie, sound from Lopez’s trusty tape recorder
can be heard throughout as he pores over his stories. There’s
also the calamity of the slums of Skid Row, where a good half the
movie takes place. I found myself often listening more intently
than I was watching, which made for an interesting experience.
Even with these subtle joys and some wonderful acting, the movie
really would best be left on the newsprint pages of the L.A.
Times, in Steve Lopez’s weekly 20 column inches.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...