Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Frank Release date: April 24, 2009 Released by: DreamWorks SKG
As soon as Jamie Foxx comes on the screen we know he has perfected his character. For those who have worked with or associated with folks who have mental disease his characteristics are right on the money.
The Soloist brings us the best performance so far this year in Foxx's work but like his award winning work in Ray he is better than the screen play and therefore better than the film as a whole.
Robert Downey, Jr. plays a human side news reporter, Steve Lopez in real life who comes across Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx) on the street and becomes fascinated with his stunning ability to play the cello and as we learn later many other musical instruments. Writer Lopez presses Ayres to come off the street and into a more standard life.
Each of the characters are on a journey that appears to be rocky road. Downey's Lopez works for the Los Angeles Times a newspaper which is in peril like many today. It is his human interest slant and what has been his relaxed attitude which keep him moving but not forward. His estranged wife played with advice by Catherine Keener works in the same news room and is pulled in to Lopez's journey with Ayers.
While we see the vast expanse of Los Angeles from above, the characters are captives of the street. Lopez fights raccoons with coyote urine and Ayers hears voices as he plays with strings missing in a tunnel under the freeway system. Ayers prefers to live on the street rather than inside where the voices are louder. Like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman he is filled with information which he continually rambles about. Some of his actions are comical and we laugh, but even when the antics are funny they are also part of the tragic world Ayres holds in his head.
The film moves in a tedious manner which reminds us of how difficult and time consuming it is to alter the patterns, habits and limitations which mental health folks face.
While the music is worthy, Ayers' favorite is Beethoven, it is not inspiring for the characters or the audience.
The philosophy which becomes apparent, is Ayres better off out side on the street where he carries all of his belongings (everything he needs) and sleeps under a highway where his mind is somewhat free, or should he come in from the cold?
The story is based on two real people who continue to carry out their lives without much change according to the credits at the end of the film and so there is no story book ending. What is missing is why so many people like Ayers are on the street. No references are made to the reform of institutions which occurred forty years ago. It allowed those with the limitations and difficulties pictured in this film to live free. At times the public wonders if true reform of those dark institutions would have been a better solution for the victims and the society.
With philosophy hanging over the the screen play, but not powering the reasons for the overall driving force behind the reasons for the direction lives have turned, the story struggles and labors but never comes completely through. That is a missed opportunity just as Ayers has missed a brilliant life because of demons in his mind.