Saturday, May 02, 2009

FILM: The Soloist

We were eager to see The Soloist based on its intriguing previews, and having been familiar with the story from Steve Lopez's LA Times series that inspired it. The film met our high expectations and then some, with a pair of tour-de-force performances from Jamie Foxx as the schizophrenic prodigy Nathaniel Ayers, and Robert Downey Jr. as journalist Steve Lopez. Writer Susannah Grant did a nice job adapting Lopez's book, telling the story from the chance acquaintance of the two men, to their developing relationship, with Ayers' life in bits of flashback as Lopez uncovers it or Ayers recalls it. Some minor facts were changed in the adaptation, such as creating the character of Lopez's editor and ex-wife (nicely enacted by Catherine Keener), but that device artfully provided good illumination of the fictionalized Lopez's motivations and failures. Foxx's amazing performance of the beautifully written Ayers character portrays his mental illness as vividly as Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man or Russell Crowe's Beautiful Mind, but surpassing those in the aching humanity of this broken man. The tone of the film is enhanced visually by sweeping vistas of Los Angeles, from Elysian Park and Disney Hall, to downtown freeway underpasses and grittier streets not so many blocks away, and musically with a full orchestra Beethoven-heavy Romantic score. In the end, the film keeps it real by not Hollywood-izing the ending.

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