Movie Reviews
4:32 pm
Tue April 21, 2009

The Soloist

Mostly hits the right chords

Most of us know that The Soloist is a true story about a Julliard dropout, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who plays two strings of a violin on the streets of LA until LA Times reporter Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) writes about him in columns and eventually a book, "The Soloist: A Lost Dream, and Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music." And Ayers is no easy subject.

But the story is as much about friendship as celebrity, as much about remaining true to ideals as rising out of poverty, and as much about schizophrenia as pride.

The Soloist gives ample opportunity for two actors with serious chops to exercise their gifts more than it gives us any insight into Ayers' illness or Lopez's talent. Although billed second, Downey is the concertmaster.

Additionally, it reveals the considerable homeless population of LA as worthy of attention: some 90,000 souls depicted as alternately celebrating their companionship and dodging LA police enforcing a no-stealing-grocery-carts policy. While even this meticulously presented story can only hope to capture the grimness of homeless street homes, Atonement director Joe Wright shows again how adept he can be at filming groups of the suffering unfortunate.

As in State of Play, The Soloist makes some reference to the plight of print newspapers, which themselves face homelessness in the wake of the Internet juggernaut. I wish someone would explore this growingly-intense topic more fully because most print writers want to face the printless future armed for survival, and the rest of us who live by morning coffee and newspapers share a kinship with those writers.

Because I have now climbed onto my Hyde-Park soapbox, I will offer my advice that the Academy award Robert Downey, Jr. an actual Oscar rather than nominations. As I see his graying head in Soloist, I worry that someday I'll see him receive the Academy's lifetime achievement award without a legitimate statuette. I prefer he be not a soloist but rather a peer of the likes of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

I have now stepped down from my box. You're welcome.