"This movie is primarily about the relationship between the weary journalist and the homeless artist, and Downey and Foxx give great performances. It sensitively deals with issues of charity and friendship in ways that challenge conventional ideals, and I liked the fact that in the end, Downey's character seems content to stop playing the role of "rescuer" and instead lets events play out to their natural conclusion. In fact, Foxx's character, for all the mental distress he faces, seems more grounded at times than Downey's character, and you might wonder whether the soloist refers to the cello virtuoso or the journalist who seems to learn what it means to be a friend rather than going solo through life. In that respect, it's a show that operates effectively on more than a superficial level.
Now if they could just have spent a little more time coaching Foxx on his fake cello-playing skills...alas."
It's about the music, stupid
Way Man | Baltimore, MD USA | 10/03/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I think it's quite extraordinary that none of the reviews of the Soloist discuss the use of Beethoven's work in the film, which in my view reveals a shocking ignorance on the part of the critics. For example, the use of the cello part from the rondo of the second movement (the funeral march) of the 3rd symphony is brilliant, and reveals far more than just the playing skill of Ayres. Ditto the use of the Triple Concerto, various string quartets, less well-known parts of the 9th Symphony, all of which brilliantly move from the cello parts to the lager ensemble and back. It's a moving, innovative, and gorgeous use of Beethoven's work, and it makes a much larger point that the critics seem to miss entirely: Beethoven's work, most of all is about transcendence, the brotherhood of mankind, and the profound spiritual value of music. That's how the Soloist uses the composers's work to tell the story. Beethoven and music are Ayres' path to transcendence, and the way Beethoven's work is handled in the film makes this point clearly. The Soloist is worth seeing (and hearing) for the music alone.
People who see this film as a political statement miss the whole point."
Like playing a violin with 2 strings
Jean E. Pouliot | Newburyport, MA United States | 11/22/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
""The Soloist" is a crude and inept adaptation of Steve Lopez's fine book of the same name. Looking for city stories to write about in his LA Times column, Lopez comes across Nathaniel Ayers, a former Juilliard student, now homeless, who plays beautiful classical music in an LA highway tunnel. The movie distorts Lopez's home life, making him a Downey-like loser, and moving wife and kids out of his life to simplify the plot. Ayers is a schizophrenic genius with little need for tutoring or practice. Just give him some meds, the movie seems to say, clean him up a little and plop him on stage, and all will be well. The reality (as captured in the book) is much more complex and difficult to achieve. There, Ayers was good, but very rusty and undisciplined and unreliable, making a stage comeback unlikely. In a rare but inconsistent nod to the book, the movie does not show him as a clear success.
Everything about the movie is amped up and turned up. The skid row scenes are snapshots from hell, with writhing, scamming, madmen filling very inch of the screen. In a rare bad performance, Jamie Foxx never manages to get inside Ayers's madness. He is every inch the talented, sane actor mouthing intricately scripted lines, Ayers's mad associations are lost in his rapid-ire delivery. The film confuses the viewer by inserting psychedelic, impressionistic scenes, as when a fire seems to burn outside Ayers's childhood home, that are hard to tell from the straight scenes that surround them.
It's has become a cliché to say that "the book was better than the movie" made from it. But with "The Soloist," the exaggerations of a bad-enough street life, the tampering with Lopez's family, the inability to wrestle with or even to present questions of how best to help the mentally ill, and Foxx's and Downey's surfacey treatment or their roles make "The Soloist" a must-miss movie."
Great story, but...
Mom of Sons | Buffalo, NY | 09/15/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Great and touching story, two fantastic actors at their best. So why was the movie a little (whisper) boring?
I don't know, but I guess it's the director's fault. Maybe there was too much music --did we really need to watch Jamie Foxx pretend to play the cello through an entire piece, more than once or twice in the movie? With psychedelic colors ("See, this is what the mentally ill musician sees when HE hears the music.") and birds flying, etc. I felt like I was watching Fantasia.
Maybe too much overly dramatic footage of the homeless and mentally ill homeless? One minute I'm watching Fantasia, the next minute it's a 60 Minutes documentary. Maybe the director didn't know what he wanted the movie to be, or where to go with it.
Maybe it was too long? I honestly don't know. I do know I fell asleep for a few minutes when it was really bogged down as the columnist (Downey) keeps trying to help the mentally ill homeless musician (Foxx) change his living situation.
Sorry for the bad review. Love these actors much, and love the story. The movie? Meh."
Heartfelt Honest Movie about the Homeless
Daniel G. Lebryk | 08/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The sum of the parts of this DVD are way better than the whole. I certainly enjoyed The Soloist, it is a good movie. But once I began exploring the bonus features on this DVD, the whole became so much more. This is the first time since watching Criterion LaserDiscs with real live director or film historian commentary, have bonus features been this movie enhancing.
The Soloist is a solid movie about a Los Angeles Times journalist that meets a homeless man playing a two stringed violin. The film follows Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.), the journalist, through his emotions trying to help Nathaniel Anthony Ayers (Jamie Foxx). The two men end up developing a deep friendship. Gratefully the screenwriter chose not to make this a happily ever after film. The nearly 2 hour film explores insanity, homelessness, and how well meaning people may or may not help these people.
Where things just go crazy wonderful is in the deep bonus features. The film opens with a very strange plea by a very odd looking person - almost priest-like, 'if you see a homeless person, they probably don't want money, they really want to just have you say hello. To get more involved with helping see this website.' Its a strange message, delivered by a strange person, and very confusing for the first time viewer. Jumping into the bonus features, it turns out this is the real live Steve Lopez.
The Bonus Features: Beth's Story - a powerful 1.5 minute animated film about a girl who's parents die, she moves from foster home to foster home, finally lives on her own, gets sick, can't pay her bills, and becomes homeless - I cried. A Making of Featurette like none I've ever seen. Not only did this film portray a side of life I hope I never see, nor you see; but they put their money where their mouth is - they hired the homeless to actually perform in this film. A video about the real live Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Steve Lopez, and his sister. Done with heart and tenderness. It is a beautiful interview piece. A series of deleted scenes that frankly are hard to tell why they were left out. Several fill plot holes that I found a little disconcerting during the film. All total there is roughly 45 minutes of bonus features. They give context to how this film was made and why.
I had a few problems with the film itself (they were quickly tossed away after seeing the bonus features). On first view, the Lamp and Mission areas just seemed all too Hollywood. They were packed with homeless people, too much seemed to be going on, they almost looked polished or unreal. As with most true stories, truth is way stranger than fiction. Apparently this is reality on this street, it was not over done. There were some minor pacing problems, early on the story kind of stalled here and there. And I went from thinking that Steve Lopez was this awesome fantastic person, to what his ex-wife says at one point - he is just capitalizing on somebody else's misfortune. The worst moment of this was when Nathaniel calls Mr. Lopez asking for help; but he is too busy receiving an award for his LA Times articles about Nathaniel Ayers.
The acting is superb in this film. Jamie Foxx is just outstanding, he proved his acting ability in Ray (that he isn't just a clown like in Booty Call), and just builds in this film. After seeing the real Nathaniel Ayers - Mr. Foxx nailed the performance. Robert Downey Jr. is such a talented actor, to say Iron Man, Tropic Thunder, and this film in one breath is some amazing credit to his abilities. He actually improved on the real Mr. Lopez. By far my favorite actor in this film is Nelsan Ellis who played David the director or advocate at Lamp/The Mission.
The film alone is more like a 4 star film. John Wright basically has three films to his credit, The Soloist, Atonement, and Pride and Prejudice. The latter two are not great but good films. The downside to this lack of experience is a number of scenes that run too long and others that run too short - or leave plot holes. Frankly I would have traded some scenes off to include three of the deleted scenes - when viewed they fill plot holes and the film makes much more sense. Camera work is overall very good. Steady shots are good and solid, handheld is kept to a minimum. I noticed a few jarring cuts from solid shots to handhelds that didn't make good sense. The use of boom shots and huge sweeping pans was a bit over the top most of the time. Near the end there are one shots between Mr. Lopez and Ayers - framing is used to great advantage, placing Mr. Lopez on the weak side and Mr. Ayers on the strong side of the frame. A powerful subtle technique.
The film is rated PG-13. There is a bit of strong language, but mostly it is held to a minimum. The subject matter is tough, insanity, and homelessness its probably not fare for those younger than 13. There was a scene or two where my 13 year old son felt a little bit nervous - the voices that Mr. Ayers hears in his head are rendered a bit too real at times. The whole production company was very wise to achieve a PG-13 rating. First and foremost this film could reach the widest audience. I don't feel like they compromised anything by keeping the language in reign.
I've always had a fear of homelessness. This film struck a very strong chord for me. It helped me see that there are small things that everyone can do, that can make a difference. This is a beautiful film."