A review of “The Soloist” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for language, intensity and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

 

 

This mawkish melodrama’s reedy charms can be summed up in three simple words: Robert Downey, Jr.

Downey is Steve Lopez, an intrepid LA columnist with fancy digs, a high-profile divorce and an empty soul. That changes - or does it - when Lopez happens upon a homeless violin player named Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a musical genius and dyed-in-the-wool schizophrenic. A former cello prodigy from Julliard, Ayers was forced to leave the program because he couldn't turn off the voices in his head.

For Lopez this spells story with a capital S. He digs deep into Ayers’ life, contacting family and former friends and offering the reluctant recluse the kind of exposure he doesn't need or want.

Director Joe Wright serves up a hornet’s nest of mixed messages - on one hand the steep price of charity and the other a poignant homage to those felled by mental illness. Or ruminations on the evils of greed vs. a bitter expose on the plight of the homeless.

On the whole “Soloist” is a staged affair, a glossy awards contender (mysteriously pushed back from December to April) that desperately seeks a visceral reaction to its inherent dramas.

No denying that Downey is the real deal, his quirky charisma, chiseled good looks and concentrated scrabble up a slippery ethical slope go a long way to righting the wrongs of a hyper-sentimental screenplay. Foxx plays Ayers “Rain Man” style, all stream of consciousness and mad hatter dialogue. Story loses its footing by lingering too long (a lost colony of broken souls at a community for the emotionally impaired) or too fleetingly (why is Lopez divorced from his co-working ex played with lovely nuance by Catherine Keener) on elemental themes. Flashbacks are poorly executed but do fill in some blanks.

Production is a beauty; a high resolution love affair with the upside of LA and its more sinister underbelly. Frankly I expect more from Wright whose previous outings (“Atonement”, “Pride & Prejudice”) hit all the right notes. “Soloist” is a pitchy affair that ultimately misses its mark.