Directed by Joe Wright
What an unfortunate accident of timing that, less than a year after brilliantly eviscerating actors grubbing for awards by playing the disabled with his notorious full retard monologue in Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr. somehow wound up in The Soloist.
Working a scenario so moldy that it could easily pass as one of Tropics fake movie trailers, Downey stars as L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, a motor-mouthed depressive who befriends a homeless schizophrenic musical prodigy (played by Jamie Foxx). If any of this sounds familiar, its because youve seen this movie at least a hundred times before (most recently in the underwhelming Resurrecting the Champ, which cast Josh Hartnett as the reporter and Samuel L. Jackson as the wizened street Jesus).
In this version (as in real life), the former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter writes an inexplicably popular series of columns in the L.A. Times, congratulating himself for befriending Foxxs babbling musician. This scores him a book deal and some journalism awards, but poor Foxx is still out on the street, mumbling to himself, playing Beethoven on a broken violin in tunnels and generally overacting his way to red-carpet Oscar glory. Susannah Grants screenplay spends a moment or two wondering how much of this friendship is really opportunistic exploitation on Lopezs part, but the movie is far too cowardly to stay there for very long.
The Soloist moves about in a muddle, never quite sure what story its supposed to be telling. Flashbacks to Foxxs traumatic childhood and mental breakdown are intercut with mundane details about Downeys broken marriage, until it becomes one of those movies where the minority figures tragic fall is just another way for the callous white guy to learn a few important life lessons and become a better person.
Still, its all not quite as painful as it sounds. Downey is far too interesting a screen presence to play Lopezs tedious ennoblement straight, playing up his patented left-field line readings and lending the character a prickly edge. Foxx is stuck trying to find a character inside a gimmicky collection of tics, but hes wise enough to keep the volume down and go for vulnerability instead of histrionics.
Director Joe Wright, who helmed that unexpectedly muscular recent Pride & Prejudice remake, as well as the unfortunate Atonement, is a bit of a show-off, but his aggression at least keeps the visuals interesting.
The Soloist is a well-acted, finely crafted movie that has everything going for it, except a reason to exist.