The Soloist: My Favorite 2009 Film, So Far

John ArmstrongFilm

Arts_soloist_584 The Soloist, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx, is my favorite movie in 2009, at least so far. Likely there will be better movies but this one touched me very deeply. The Soloist tells the true story of Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), gifted cellist and former Julliard student whose schizophrenia derailed his musical goals. Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist, befriended Ayers and eventually told his story, first in his column and then in a book which led to the movie.

Ayers went from Julliard to the sidewalks of Skid Row in L.A. The story is both fascinating and tragic. At the same time it has a beauty to it that gives dignity to the many homeless people we all ignore every single day. (L. A. has more than any city in America.) To say that Jamie Foxx deserves an Academy nomination for best actor, based on this performance, is an understatement. If the judges are fair, and remember a film released so far ahead of the “season," Foxx is a winner in my book.

Lopez is a hard core realist who wants to help Ayers. He urges him to use medication, even seeking to find a way to force this to happen. He wants him off the streets and even gets him an apartment. But Ayers fears living between four walls as much as anything. The producer and director portray schizophrenia in a studied and artful way, much as was done in Russell Crowe’s portrayal in A Beautiful Mind. (If you loved A Beautiful Mind you should love The Soloist.)

The movie does not provide a “one stop” solution or a feel good ending, as you might expect if it were formulaic. This is, in other words, not an inspirational biopic! In fact, the gripping realism here is incredible. The end is left just where the story leaves it even though a few (appropriate) liberties were apparently taken in the film version. The great power of this film is in the two lead characters: Downey and Foxx. They are simply brilliant.

The other very moving thing about this movie is the point about it all. Lopez becomes Ayers friend. As a friend he must learn that he cannot fix his buddy just because he wants to do it. In the end the film is a musical feast while it celebrates the power of friendship. I predict serious musicians who are over 18 years of age will love the film. I confess that this tribute to friendship moved me to sit in silence and shed tears like few movies I have seen in a long time. Critics have been fairly favorable to this film but I give it four stars out of four. See it. I believe regular readers of this blog will truly love it, even if you do not dig Bach or Beethoven.