The Soloist Review: All By Myself

THE SOLOIST: On General Release From 25th September 2009

It was Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder who described the situation of mental health in movies the best:

‘Everybody knows you never go full retard.’

So I was a little bit nervous when I heard Downey would be in a movie about schizophrenia but I was pleasantly surprised by this blatant piece of Oscar baiting.

In The Soloist Downey plays real life reporter Steve Lopez who comes across a homeless man that just so happens to be a talented classical musician as well as a schizophrenic.

Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) is a homeless musician who spends his time playing a violin by a statue of his hero, Beethoven. When he lets slip to Steve that he was once in the prestigious Julliard School, he is thrust into the public eye when Steve writes an article in the LA Times about him.

Erin Brockovich writer Susannah Grant has adapted the film from a book by Lopez which is based on his real experiences with Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx).

Joe Wright’s (Atonement) directorial style may differ from what you saw in his well known World War love-torn drama but his handheld approach serves this story better than a polished presentation would have. He chooses to showcase Downey and Foxx by not overplaying their situations: these people aren’t extraordinary people, they’re just trying to get along with the world.

Grant’s screenplay unravels Nathaniel’s mental illness slowly and in well timed flashbacks. Unfortunately it doesn’t share enough of the character with the audience to make us understand why Steve would invest so much time and effort in him.

The story isn’t able to fully explore Nathaniel’s mental illness because of the nature of schizophrenia; a lack of trust in people, irrational fears and compulsive tendencies, but Foxx manages to play this character, limited as it is, with subtlety and authenticity.

It’s unfortunate that the script lets him down in places; it even goes so far as to employ what I like to call ‘The King Kong Effect’. This is when an uncomfortable, unstable creature or person is put into the public domain and will inevitably lash out and hurt someone, thus perpetuating ideas of fear and ignorance. Though it may have been based on reality, the film didn’t need it.

Downey plays Steve fairly on the nose; he’s consistent and the anchor of the movie but a little boring. It seems the entire film doesn’t seem to know exactly what it’s trying to say: is it about Nathaniel and Steve? Is it about Steve’s struggle to be a responsible adult? Is it a film about homelessness?

While it is unfocused, it’s enjoyable and emotional with glimpses of humour. A well made film.


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