Something isn’t quite right with Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) in this dramatic film ‘The Soloist’. Now what exactly it is that troubles the middle aged man isn’t made clear, largely because of Ayers extreme reluctance to be examined, but at the risk of sounding insensitive the dude is certainly crazy. The reason we are even aware of the existence of Nathaniel Ayers is due to the hard work of Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) who quite honestly seems to be a few cards short of a full deck himself.
day while hanging out in the park, Lopez runs into a
man playing a two string violin who made the offhand
statement that he attended the prestigious Julliard
School of Music in New York City. Since the man is a
reporter a little investigating was all that was
needed to reveal all of this to be true, Nathaniel
Ayers was once a gifted Cellist until The Crazy got
all up in him.
Lopez is going through his own issues in his life and
this might be the reason that he has taken it upon
himself to ‘save’ Nathaniel Ayers. He writes a story
that touches people in a special way and even results
in a woman donating her precious cello so Nathaniel
can go back to playing his original instrument of
choice. Initially this seemed like a good thing as he
was able to convince Nathaniel to move into a place
where he and his Cello can be safe, a place where
there was some modicum of supervision and the
occasional steady meal but Nathaniel didn’t really
desire any of this. Despite Nathaniel’s elevation of
Steve Lopez to the status of almost a deity, Ayers
seemed to be more than content living his life in the
streets of Los Angeles amidst the prostitutes, loons,
dealers, pimps and hustlers.
While this reality seems fairly clear to me, it still seems lost on Mr. Lopez who continues to do his best to help Mr. Ayers by practically forcing him to do things he doesn’t want to do, a strategy that is probably not in the best interest of man who is
largely suspected of being schizophrenic. Eventually Steve Lopez will come to the bitter realization that he is no psychoanalyst and that truly the road to hell is often paved with the best of intentions. In the absence of a cure sometimes a loon just needs a friend.
On paper ‘The Soloist’ seems like one of those can’t miss movies that the studio releases in the fall, comfortable with the knowledge that no one is actually going to go see the movie but knowing when award time rolls around it will be adequately represented. Everything seems in place for this film with a young talented director in Joe Wright, an Academy Award winner in Jamie Foxx and though Robert Downey shelf is barren with that particular award he is still considered one of the best actors of his generation. Plus we have added dimension of the always popular mental illness angle with Jamie Foxx heeding the prophetic words of Kirk Lazarus and deftly avoiding going ‘full retard’ throughout the movie. So with the fine performances by both Foxx and Downey Jr., a solid supporting cast, an interesting story line and Ludwig Van on backup why didn’t this film move me? And why did Dreamworks release this quiet character study amidst the throng of about to be released summer blockbusters? Perhaps they were hoping that people would get confused and think they were watching ‘Iron Man 2’.
There was something sterile about ‘The Soloist’ that had me watching what was going on as a detached observer. Part of this could be because neither the characters of Steve Lopez nor Nathaniel Ayers are really all that likable. Recognizing that Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx are accomplished enough actors to squeeze whatever they want us to see from a character, I imagine this was by design, but the fact remains that one watches this movie wondering when Lopez is going to stop messing with this cat who has made it fairly clear that he doesn’t want or need his help in the first place. Between Lopez’ arrogance and selfishness hiding behind a helping hand and Ayers complete inability to reason, it felt like we were just watching these two go around in pointless emotional circles.
Of course the movie is called ‘The Soloist’ which not only represents the obvious musical intent but also both characters who seem to function best as single entities and we understand that they are helping each other as movies like this painstakingly attempt to point out to us. We did appreciate that this double entendre wasn’t clubbed over our head and the film did develop at a reasonable and believable arc. Make no mistake about it that this is confident, well acted drama with an important story tell. But when taken as a whole it is a story that lacked the central ingredient of emotion that a film such as this usually leans heavily on to ultimately succeed. Without the emotion to support these grand acting performances, I can only imagine watching ‘The Soloist’ is somewhat similar to listening to a Beethoven movement flawlessly and efficiently played by orchestra of robots.