A patience testing but effective story in “The Soloist”
The story of “The Soloist” about an L.A. Times reporter who befriends a homeless musical prodigy would have made a terrific short. In 30 minutes or so, a film could have covered the necessary territory, featured two fine actors in top form and could have been just as moving with its “we are our brother’s keeper” message. Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided to make a feature length movie and the many embellishments added to the true story don’t add to the film in any measurable way.
The first 45 minutes or so plod at such a slow pace that despite the stellar, effective performances of Robert Downey Jr. (Reporter Steve Lopez) and Jamie Foxx (Former Julliard musician Nathaniel Ayers) “The Soloist” requires either a big Coke or a pre-nap.
Oh, the film is well intentioned, no doubt. The scenes showing some of the estimated 90,000 homeless on the streets of Los Angeles a few of whom camp out on skid row at the men’s project (LAMP) are effectively sobering. It’s impossible to detect the real actors from the actual vagrants.
And Downey who is in an actor’s “zone” if there is such a thing, gives another credible, compelling portrayal as the reporter who discovers a matted- haired, filthy Ayers somehow making beautiful music from a rickety two-stringed violin . For Foxx’s part, the actor provides an affected but believable face to the schziophrenic musician, rarely making eye contact, but nevertheless surprisingly approachable.
The film could have used some more energetic music too. The classical pieces used (Ayers apparently worshipped Beethoven) make one believe the cello is only capable of somber dirges.
“The Soloist” goes out of its way to avoid easy answers and a happy ending which may disgruntle some but adds to the film’s credibility. Where does one person’s charity and desire to help another intersect someone’s agency to live the life they want? And what responsibility does society have to “fix” the mentally insecure? Lopez, as generous a reporter who ever lived, asked himself these questions and his story is illuminating and inspiring.
Director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) was given the impossible task of making something bigger than it needed to be.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug use and language.