Review of The Soloist

Review of The Soloist written by Susannah Grant and directed by Joe Wright
Rating ****

When I watch a movie that I plan to review, I sometimes rate the movie as it goes along. A four star rating in one of my reviews earns a spot at years end in the best of category. I wavered on this one starting with three stars and then four and then three and a half. It wasn't until I got home and went to the official web site for the movie that I settled on the four star rating. More on that later. For now, just know that as I write this review, music from the movie is playing in the background.

My first impression of this movie was how real it felt. Take for example the sets. Too many films today look staged. Even Spielberg has fallen into this trap. There are some scenes in the last Indiana Jones movie where everything on the screen looks like a storyboard with actors standing in designated spots, under artificial lighting, on sets that look like sets. You won't get that impression with this film. This film looks and sounds like it was filmed on location. Much of the early part of the movie takes place on the streets of Los Angeles. So it's noisy. It's cluttered. The homeless people look like homeless people (which they probably were).The director didn't turn down the background sound so you could hear the actors better. I'm sure that it was a conscious decision and I give him credit.

This film is based on the book by the same writer portrayed in the film. Steve Lopez is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He stumbles across a street musician by the name of Nathanial Ayers. Steve sees a possible story when he learns that Nathanial once attended Juliard. The film portrays Steve's efforts to help Nathanial lift himself out of homelessness. The film also deals with Nathanial's mental illness.

Robert Downy Jr. plays writer Steve Lopez, and Jamie Foxx plays Nathanial Ayers. Both do an excellent job. One of the things I liked about the film was how the relationship between the two men is portrayed. Steve wants to help Nathanial, but at the same time he doesn't want to become responsible for him. The charcaters are flawed. There is no Hollywood ending.

One review I read prior to seeing the film panned the use of an orchestra accompaniment whenever Nathanial plays the cello. I totally disagree. It made the scenes more interesting. The same effect was used in Amadeus, and it seemed to work out okay for that movie.

There were a few things about the film that kept it from a solid four star rating for me. I thought the first ten to fifteen minutes of the film were wasted. The entire opening scene where Steve's character has an accident on his bicycle could have been eliminated. It may have happened that way, but it didn't do anything to advance the story. The use of flashbacks was uneven. I also felt that Jamie Foxx got a little too Forest Gump-like in a few scenes.

I gave the film four stars because of the effective use of the Internet to provide additional content, including interviews with the real Steve Lopez and Nathanial Ayers. The web site also had a link to another web site that featured interviews with various street musicians. And then there's the cool music that's still playing as I write.

Based on the sparse crowd for an opening weekend, I'm guessing that this film won't break any box office records. And that's too bad, because I'll take a film like this over the comic book/super hero crap any day.

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