Unreal Movie Review: The Soloist

Joe Wright’s work directing Atonement made quite an impression on me, so I was eagerly anticipating his follow up, The Soloist.  In fact, I listed The Soloist as one of the movies I was pumped to see in 2009.  I finally got around to seeing it, and I can say that it was a good movie. 

It was well-acted, well-written, featured terrific cinematography, and had an appropriate level of depth to its themes.  It was no Atonement, however, and the best I can say about The Soloist is that it was merely “good.” 

You’d think that a Joe Wright-directed feature starring Robert Downey and Jamie Foxx would be a recipe for a great movie, but unfortunately, The Soloist falls a little flat.  Like I mentioned above, it was merely “good.”  


Robert Downey plays Steve Lopez, an LA Times columnist who discovers Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx), a homeless, mentally ill man with an unmatched musical talent.  It goes without saying that both performances are very good, particularly Downey’s.  That’s no knock on Foxx – who is very talented in his own right – but I shouldn’t have to start quoting lines from Tropic Thunder to explain why Foxx’s performance has a ceiling, so to speak.  The portrayal of mentally challenged characters has itself become cliche.  There are other actors involved in The Soloist, of course, but they’re mostly in minor roles, and virtually all of the film directly involves Lopez or Ayers.  In a somewhat formulaic plot, Lopez initially exploits Ayers for the purpose of writing a compelling story, only later to create a real friendship with his schizophrenic subject.


The cinematography in Atonement was terrific, so I wasn’t surprised to see great use of the camera in The Soloist.  Wright trusts his actors, often zooming in on their faces and letting them act without speaking; it may be a tense Lopez smoking a cigarette, or a peaceful Ayers becoming completely immersed in his music.  Certain shots are framed beautifully, and the long, dynamic tracking shots we’re used to seeing from Wright are effective, too.  At the very worst, the film is visually pleasing.  At one point, during an orchestra scene, Wright opts to give the audience a light show, the flashing, colorful images on screen synced up perfectly with the music.  I thought this was pretty creative; my girlfriend felt it looked like an iTunes visualizer.  She may be right, actually.


So, we’ve covered the acting, the somewhat generic (although based on a true) story, and the cinematography.  It’s imperative that the score be of quality, of course, since one of the themes of the film is music.  And the score is great – the deep, resonating sounds of Ayers’ cello seem to mirror his emotions; it almost sounds as if the instrument is weeping with joy from being played by Ayers.


There are religious/God themes sprinkled throughout The Soloist, and Wright succeeds in humanizing the homeless as well as the mentally ill.  I have given all aspects of this movie praise so far, but unfortunately, this is a film that is not greater than the sum off its parts.  It’s like a girl with beautiful eyes, full lips, a perfect nose and a sweet voice, but for some reason, she still isn’t a knockout – she’s merely pretty.  Joe Wright didn’t fail by any means, but this film lacks the depth one would expect from this ensemble of talent.  I was left somewhat disappointed, but that’s probably because I was expecting a masterpiece.

Three out of five stars

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