From the second I saw the trailer for ‘The Soloist,’ originally slated for a Oscar-grabbing release date before Paramount pushed it five months, I was pretty conflicted.
On one hand, it promised us Robert Downey Jr. and Joe Wright – one of everybody’s favorite actors alongside the promising young director who gave us Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. On the other hand, it featured the sometimes great but sometimes not Jamie Foxx, in the role of a crazy homeless man – easily evoking the now-famous dialogue that the same Robert Downey Jr. gave us in Tropic Thunder about going “full retard” (an interviewer actually had the balls to ask Downey about this, but was promptly bitch-slapped for doing so).
But, after having sat through the movie, I’m pleased to report that Foxx’s performance not only works, but that the movie on a whole is pretty damn good.
The based-on-a-true-story plot centers around Downey’s character of Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times who meets Nathaniel (Foxx), an eccentric musician, in a park. It turns out that Nathaniel was something of a prodigy with his instrument, even going so far as getting both an admission and a scholorship to Juilliard. Lopez finds his story newsworthy, and begins to devote many of his columns to Nathaniel’s story.
Last week, a lot of noise was made about State of Play and its depiction of journalism. Although The Soloist doesn’t feature as much commentary on the current state of the industry, I’d go with Wright’s film as a better examination of journalism. Lopez’s dedication to finding an interesting story, and then sticking with it for as long as he needs to, is a great example of great journalism and the process it requires. State of Play was more interested in giddy thrills than anything else, just managing to throw a couple of comments about newspapers here and there.
But that’s just one reason why The Soloist is a better movie about journalism than State of Play, in addition to just being a better all-around movie. It’s clear after watching the film that it wasn’t yanked from it’s Oscar territory release for its quality.
The acting is what sets this one ahead of just about any other film released in this young year – just as you would hope with a character-based drama.
Someday, perhaps even someday soon, Robert Downey Jr.’s hurried, under-his-breath shtick is going to get old. But that day has not come yet. On top of bringing his already legendary charisma, the guy is able to give us a totally solid portrayal of a dude who may have committed to more than he wants to handle.
As for Foxx, despite my trepidation over his role, the man comes through in the end. Foxx is going, as Kirk Lazarus would call it, “Full Retard” here, but he’s lucid enough that the voice for his character is just as normal as anyone else’s. Foxx makes it clear that he’s an average guy on the inside, it’s just the effects of his condition that keep him from acting like everyone else.
But maybe what ultimately grounds Nathaniel is that, in the end, he’s just a supporting role. The central drama of the movie belongs to Lopez, and his dilemma as he is faced with the challenge of dedicating more of himself to his subject than he had originally intended.
I have to take off some points for the film’s super-lame PSA ending. Instead of just letting the story speak for itself (which it is certainly capable of doing), Wright had to slap on a gooey message encouraging the audience to help the huge homeless population of Los Angeles. Give him props for being compassionate, but it just leaves a sacchrine taste in your mouth after what was an otherwise very good film.