By Pauline Adamek
In “The Soloist,” Robert Downey, Jr., plays real-life “Los Angeles Times” columnist Steve Lopez in a story that, somewhat confusingly, is part true, part fictional.
Director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) takes a fairly glib approach with this screenplay by Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”) and delivers a film that deliberately steers clear of maudlin melodrama yet leaves you craving a deeper connection with these troubled characters.
From the start, journalist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a broken man. Sporting some serious damage to his face following an accident, and in the throes of a (fictional) divorce from his editor ex-wife, acerbically portrayed by Catherine Keener, Lopez is enchanted to hear music echoing in a downtown public courtyard. There, beneath a statue of Beethoven, he meets an even more broken fellow, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who is playing a sublime violin melody with only two strings. Lopez learns that the now homeless man was once a student at the famed Julliard School of Music and devotes several columns to telling his story.
Pretty soon a groundswell of support, in the form of donated musical instruments, gifts, and letters, floods in for Ayers, and Lopez finds himself swept into giving a lot more to this lost person than he anticipated.
Although a moving tale, “The Soloist” never really strums your heartstrings. It’s unclear whether the fault lies with Susannah Grant’s breezy screenplay or with Joe Wright’s flippant storytelling technique, that plays fast and loose with facts and details.
For instance, we never gain a clear sense of Lopez’s working relationship with his ex-wife, beyond the fact that they are squabbling about his lack of contact with their son. We also are given no actual context for the work that Lopez does for the newspaper. Hence, when he laments his column lacks a subject (because he can’t always find the transient Ayers) or when he declares he has a deadline to meet, there is a notable absence of tension as we have no idea how often he is expected to file his column.
Clumsy storytelling such as this saps the movie of the necessary tension that would drive the drama. Under different direction, “The Soloist” could command a greater level of audience involvement. At best, this movie is a decent character study starring two Oscar-winning actors.
Studio/Official Site: http://www.soloistmovie.com/
[Pauline Adamek is a Hollywood-based film, theater, and food critic who files for “FilmInk Australia,” “LA Daily News,” “Sun Community Newspapers” as well as various websites under the “nom du net” Max Million.]