Tonight I went to see The Soloist with me lovely father, hoping for something intriguing and hopeful...
This film was so much more. I will just start by saying that this is what a film should be.
Joe Wright, the director of The Soloist, has long been an inspiration of mine, and he always seems to capture emotion stunningly. I have watched his flawless adaptation of Pride and Prejudice over 30 time (seriously), and I never get bored with it. I still gasp and giggle in the heated moments between Elizabeth and Darcy, and I cry EVERY TIME when Mr. Bennett, played by Don Sutherland, gets emotional in the next to last scene. Atonement also took my breath away, especially the beautiful, lengthy pan of shores of France during war time. After seeing those two films and appreciating them so hugely, I should have known that The Soloist could only be better.
For a very quick synopsis: The Soloist is the true story of the LA Times reporter, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.), and a homeless musical genius, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Jr. (Jamie Foxx). Lopez, gritty and irritable, is always hunting for a story, and bumping into Ayers gives him a new scent. After discovering that Ayers is a Juilliard drop-out, the tale is too intriguing to let go. However predictable and simple this story line seems, it is layered with intense complication. In true Wright style, we see that no tale of human interaction can be the least bit simple.
From then on, the path of the film takes twists and turns and never stops surprising. Many scenes are genuinely frightening. Wright, and his character of Lopez, have no fear of entering the world of the mentally ill, homeless, and addicted. Or, if they do, they battle it fiercely. But for as many moments that terrify, inhabiting the mind of Ayers, there are just as many moments that are filled with immense beauty. More than once I had to stop eating my popcorn mid-bite and stare, my breath stopped. I even cried more than once, and I NEVER cry in movies. One incredibly beautiful scene takes place in the Disney Music Hall where Ayers listens to an orchestra perform the music of his favorite composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven. For a good three minutes, all that is displayed on screen in accompaniment with the music is a beautiful light show, reminiscent of Fantasia, or 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is so emotional and spot-on, it retreats inside the human sub conscience. Afterwards, Ayers says, "I can feel him. He's in the room.", to which Lopez replies, "Who?". Ayers replies, "Beethoven." Usually I would roll my eyes at a moment like this, but for some reason it all feels so surprisingly real.
To me, what marks a great actor is the ability to retreat so willingly and deeply into a character that the audience forgets who you are in "real life" for two hours. Marion Cotillard accomplished this in La Vie En Rose, and Jamie Foxx accomplished this in The Soloist. Foxx lets go of all inhibitions, all glamour and celebrity pretense, and launches himself into the body and mind of Ayers. It is truly a performance to commend.
The Soloist feels full and round in a way that few movies do today. Lopez doesn't solve all the problems he would like to, but in other ways, he solves all the ones he can. The film feels realistic, but Wright does not forget his duty to transport and carry the audience, giving refuge sometimes, and sometimes holding it back. I am very VERY critical of films, and I rarely walk away feeling particularly enriched, but once in awhile, a film comes along like The Soloist. And on a last note: keep a look-out for Joe Wright. He is may just be the best director of a generation.