The Soloist (2009)

Genre(s): Biographical / Drama
DreamWorks, Universal || PG13 - 117 minutes - $29.98 || August 4, 2009
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2009-07-25


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.
Video

.:: A U D I O ::.
Audio

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Joe Wright
Writer(s): Steve Lopez (novel); Susannah Grant (screenplay)
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener


Theatrical Release Date: April 24, 2009


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Feature Commentary
  • 3 Featurettes
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Animated Short


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.40)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

Plot: The Soloist tells the tale of a Los Angeles newspaper reporter who discovers a brilliant street musician, with unsinkable passion, and the unique friendship and bond that transforms both their lives.

Originally slated for a November 2008 release – probably to capitalize on possibly award nominations –, The Soloist instead was delayed until April 2009 where it basically came and went from theaters and only made half of its estimated $60 million budget. And that’s a shame. Not prepared to say the film is Oscar worthy, it falls short on the dramatics, but I think for Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.’s performances, it could’ve been a contender, though in an already tough year especially with Heath Ledger’s Supporting Actor nod.

Whatever the case, I felt The Soloist was certainly a good movie falling short of being great. Robert Downey Jr., as always, gives a good performance from a role that isn’t all that meaty while Jamie Foxx, no stranger to playing a real life person, effortlessly brings Nathaniel Ayer Jr. to life. When I say it was effortless, I mean it looked effortless. Whenever I see actors portraying a character with physical, mental or psychological issues, it sometimes looks like that actor playing someone with those issues (see Robert Downey Jr.’s speech to Ben Stiller in Tropic Thunder about Sean Penn, something that was spot on).

The film was directed by Joe Wright who also helmed a couple of other great movies – personal favorites –, Pride & Prejudice (Keira Knightly) and Atonement. While I don’t feel The Soloist quite rises to those levels of quality (maybe because of the historical nature of them) but I do give Wright props for avoiding the dramatic and Oscar-bait clichés.

Where Foxx went beyond the clichés, Wright does a good job unfolding the Nathaniel character’s life showing us his past and the beginning of his schizophrenia, taking us into his mind and the voices and paranoia that haunt him. Outside of the two performances, this is the film’s strongest suit, something that is rarely utilized right. When we see and hear what Nathaniel is going through, it adds depth and understanding to his sometimes disturbing genius.

Although I don’t think the film is high dramatic achievement – the story (based on the book by Steve Lopez, screenplay by Susannah Grant who also wrote Erin Brockovich and Catch and Release) could’ve used some work –, the performance by Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. does make it a worthwhile viewing.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

The DVD has a decent amount of featurettes but I do wish Paramount had made a deal of some sort to include the “60 Minutes” special which aired in March 2009 so it could’ve been added.

Commentary by Joe Wright – If you’ve ever listened to Wright’s previous commentaries, you know what you’re getting here. He’s not the most stimulating commentator but he provides some insight into the making of the film in between the gaps of silence.

An Unlikely Friendship: Making The Soloist (19:37) – This featurette covers how the project came to be from producer Russ Krasnoff discovering Steve Lopez’s article and book going into the social story of homelessness. It’s a fairly standard ‘making-of’ but still good for anyone wanting to know more about the movie.

Kindness, Courtesy and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez (4:48) is a featurette on the real life characters profiling Nathaniel Ayers and Steve Lopez’s relationship and how it all began. I’m always fascinated by the real people movies are based upon so to hear from them, is quite interesting.

One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in Los Angeles (9:45) is a bit of an expose on those who have been forgotten in society in the words of the advocates as well as members of the crew.

Finally there are five standard deleted scenes (9:49) and an animated short called Beth’s Story (2:02)



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen and its original 2.40 aspect ratio. As far as DVD transfers go, this isn’t the best looking video I’ve seen. There is plenty of pixilation especially with background objects and colors aren’t exactly the best. That said, I didn’t notice much in the way of dust or scratches so it is clean, I just wish the picture was slightly clearer.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is adequate for a dialogue driven film. The track gets the most use from the classical music but don’t go in expecting an audio enriched experience.



.::OVERALL::.

Even though I don’t think the film on the whole is Oscar-worthy, the performances at least are. The Soloist may not display Foxx or Downey Jr.’s greatest performances, they’re still quite good and the primary reason just ahead of a compelling story that clues us into homelessness and mental illness.