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THE SOLOIST (R) (2009)


Official Site

Director: Joe Wright

Producers: Gary Foster, Russ Krasnoff

Written by: Susannah Grant

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.

—Chelsea Stark

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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.

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