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SOLOIST, THE (director: Joe Wright; screenwriters: Susannah Grant/based on the book by Steve Lopez; cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey; editor: Paul Tothill; music: Dario Marianelli; cast: Jamie Foxx (Nathaniel Anthony Ayers), Robert Downey Jr. (Steve Lopez), Catherine Keener (Mary Weston), Tom Hollander (Graham Claydon), Nelsan Ellis (David), LisaGay Hamilton (Jennifer Ayers-Moore); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Gary Foster/Russ Krasnoff; DreamWorks Pictures; 2009)
“Too bland a presentation to be remembered later on during Oscar time for the 2009 award.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A spiritual movie about a self-centered reporter making contact with a homeless mentally-ill Juilliard trained musician. It’s well-meaning and is well-acted, but is dreary and emotionally bankrupt. British director Joe Wright (“Pride & Prejudice”/”Crocodile Snap”/”Atonement”) tries to fiddle away at so many tunes until it becomes difficult to discern what tune he wants us to hear. It plays out as a rather tone deaf love fest for Beethoven, the urban disadvantaged, the invisible Skid Row denizens of LA and those who are mentally ill. It’s based-on-the-real-life portrait by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez. The screenplay, which has an indie feel, is by Susannah Grant, who stretches it out between sentimentality and hard-hitting reality. She’s the writer of Erin Brockovich.

Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) is a twitchy street person, a schizophrenic musical prodigy who hears voices in his head and had a meltdown before dropping out from Julliard. Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) is the LA Times columnist recovering from a nasty spill on his bicycle, who while walking around the city discovers the homeless African-American in rags playing on a two-string violin by a statue of Beethoven in the downtown area and befriends Ayers to get a story. Why the ‘have’ becomes so obsessed with his ‘have not’ discovery, is never clarified (either exploiting him for a story or because he really cares or a mixture of both). But they meet regularly and a thorny relationship develops, with Ayers looking upon the reporter as a god.

Lopez tries to bring the homeless man (one of some 90,000 in the greater LA area) back to normal by getting him a clean apartment; presenting him with a valuable gift of a cello from a reader; having him meet with the LA Philharmonic cellist (Tom Hollander), a devout Christian, who arranges for Ayers to give a recital; and trying to talk the reluctant Skids Row shelter worker David (Nelsan Ellis) to get Ayers on meds. But after letting the viewer feel some of Ayer’s pain, the story turns its attention to Lopez dealing with his newspaper boss editor ex-wife Mary Weston (Catherine Keener) and his failed attempts to cure the sometimes volatile and babbling Ayers (who slips in and out of rationality), as the film seems to go nowhere that’s interesting with Lopez now the focal point of the story. For Lopez’s efforts, he gets a well-received series of newspaper articles and later a hit book. Ayers survives supposedly through his music and in the apartment that Lopez managed to secure for him. The film also wants us to think of Ayers and Lopez becoming friends, but that was a bit hard to swallow since their relationship was based solely on need and never looked like a true friendship.

The film was intended to be a 2008 Oscar hopeful, a cross between Shine and A Beautiful Mind. Instead it was released in April of 2009 and appears to be too bland a presentation to be remembered later on during Oscar time for the 2009 award.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”