One is the Loneliest Number

on August 04, 2009 by Steve Simels
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the soloist.jpgVideo Event of the Day: Well, it's a little slow for a Tuesday, but clearly it's Paramount's new DVD and Blu-ray versions of director Joe Wright's The Soloist -- the Esa-Pekka Salonen Robert Downey Jr./Jamie Foxx star vehicle that drops this morning, as the kids say.

Okay, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the LA Philharmonic actually are on the soundtrack. Sorry -- couldn't resist a little classical music joke there.

In any case, if you haven't seen it (or missed some of the pre-release hype earlier in the year, including a 60 Minutes profile of the real-life characters the film is based on), The Soloist is about cellist Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx), a musical prodigy who develops serious paranoid schizophrenic symptoms and winds up homeless on the streets. Downey, meanwhile, is Steve Lopez, an LA Times reporter with his own problems who befriends Ayers, and the relationship between the two ultimately changes their lives blah blah blah.

Here's a representative clip to give you a taste of the thing.

I saw this in the theater during its original run and seeing it again on Paramount's beautifully transfered DVD still leaves me underwhelmed. For starters, despite the fact that Ayers' and Lopez' story is as dramatic and heart-tugging as you could want, somebody -- more than likely screenwriter Susannah Grant -- felt the need to give the Lopez character all sorts of demons he not only lacked in real life but seem obviously shoe-horned in to up the drama quotient and create some kind of thematic equivalence between the two characters. It's a bogus contrivance and an annoying one, and it serves to set up the film's other major problem -- which is that despite yeoman work from Downey and Foxx, you're acutely conscious of the fact you're watching a film less intent on illuminating two interesting lives with a modicum of honesty than with a fairly blatant attempt to garner two Academy Award nominations. And if that sounds cynical, wait till you see the film.

That said, The Soloist is not at all bad on the politics of LA's treatment of the homeless, and I'd be remiss if I didn't add that despite its problems, it's worlds, perhaps even universes, better than another recent would-be inspirational blockbuster about the healing power of music. I refer, of course, to the astoundingly appalling 2007 August Rush, featuring kid actor Freddie Highmore using his adorableness as a cudgel and Robin Williams, doing an inexplicable impression of U2's Bono, in what may be the most fraudulent performance of his career.

Seriously -- if you got through that trailer without wanting to find director Kirsten Sheridan and slap her with a dead fish, you're a better person than I.

In any case, the DVD of The Soloist, which as I mentioned previously looks quite terrifc, comes with a couple of interesting if not revelatory bonuses, including deleted scenes and three (sort of) making-of documentaries, one of which addresses the issue of homelessness in LA specifically.

If any of that interests you -- and to be fair, Downey is probably always worth watching, as is co-star Catherine Keener -- you can order The Soloist over here.

 

Tags: Joe Wright, The Soloist, Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Susannah Grant, Kirsten Sheridan
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