What was supposed to be a big contender for this year’s Oscars eventually slipped from the release schedule and slid its way into a relatively quiet April release. With the film starring an Oscar winner and two-time nominee, the buzz for the film was high and being based off of a true story certainly didn’t hurt matters any. Despite these factors, however, the film received mixed reviews; praise was high for the leading actors, but not so much for the writing and directing of the film. Despite its shortcomings, however, the film’s praise for actor performances certainly wasn’t unwarranted and is ultimately the sole reason to see this film.
Academy Award® nominee Robert Downey Jr. and Academy Award® winner Jamie Foxx star in an extraordinary and inspiring true story of how a chance meeting can change a life. The Soloist tells the poignant and ultimately soaring tale of a Los Angeles newspaper reporter who discovers a brilliant and distracted street musician, with unsinkable passion, and the unique friendship and bond that transforms both their lives. The remarkable performances make for an unforgettable experience in what is hailed as “a courageous and uncompromising film” (Gene Shalit, TODAY).
I pretty much just told you what I thought of the film in the intro, but despite that there’s still plenty more to dissect and talk about. Immediately from the trailers and blurbs you saw for this film you could tell that its selling point was going to be its actors. The story itself is certainly amazing in of itself but not something you can easily cram into trailers; instead fast cuts of dramatic looking sequences with two of our strongest actors in Hollywood today was all that was required. I found myself wondering what exactly was so familiar about this film when I started watching it and realized that the film Resurrecting the Champ had an almost identical storyline, although with slightly less amazing acting and more of a plot. I’d still pick The Soloist out of the two, of course, but if you’ve seen one then you’ve seen the other.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the performances of the cast in this film, Downey and Foxx especially (obviously), but when you take a step back and analyze the film for any amount of time you realize it’s a very two dimensional story that has very few layers. Downey’s character isn’t give much of a back story and, while we assume he’s a lonely or tortured individual in some fashion we never see a result of it. He plays a father whose son we never see (away at college), but all the while Downey plays him as if he’s a bachelor…there’s just never anything paternal feeling about him. In fact we’re often almost led to ignore the characters personal life and instead focus on Foxx’s performance and backstory…but again, it’s an abbreviated and heavily cut up backstory and all we ever get is that he was troubled in his time spent at Juliard. Why? What triggered it? Was it just stress? Was it something that happened in his youth? We’re never given a full answer and while it’s likely because there isn’t one, to give us such a neutered look at both of our main characters creates for a very, very empty film.
At the same time, none of it matters. The film likes to live in the present (aside from the few bits of backstory) and almost all of it is spent with Foxx and Downey’s characters; while very hollow in this regard, it does at least stay consistent. At the same time it’s an inspiring tale and a sobering look at the state of the homeless shelters in the United States and just how many of this country’s population is out on the streets.
Ultimately that’s all you take away from this film: a PSA for the state of the homeless and a brief look at what one LA reporter did to help. It’s not a bad film by any means, but it is very light on plot and what is there seems forced or just useless (what was the purpose of the wolf urine and raccoons, by the way? It seemed to never crop up again…). Still a film that comes Recommended, but what you take away (and retain) from it will probably be quite limited.
Paramount brings The Soloist to Blu-ray in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with plain (and boring) grey disc art. Menus are simple and easy to navigate and a single insert is included inside the case (firmware notice, naturally). Video arrives in the form of an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and there’s quite a few interesting sequences to see here…mainly the screensaver like color experience we see when Foxx’s character closes his eyes at one point in the film. It’s a beautiful sequence, but for the most part all the transfer is good for is counting the stubble on Downey’s face. It’s certainly clear, but it overwhelming impressive…but the audio, a TrueHD 5.1 mix, definitely is impressive. Not only does the classical music played in the film come through crystal clear, but it is backed up with copious bass and a solid surround mix. The voices that Foxx hears at certain points in the film also echo in the surrounds as well, creating a kind of haunting effect. If you were like me and thought this was going to be an overly quiet mix…well, you’ll be quite surprised.
Extras are varied for this release and are surprisingly worthwhile to check out. Included are:
• Commentary by Director Joe Wright
• An Unlikely Friendship: Making The Soloist (19:37, 1080i)
• Kindness, Courtesy and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez (4:48, 1080i)
• One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in Los Angeles (9:45, 1080i)
• Juilliard Piece (4:08, 1080i)
• Beth’s Story (2:02, 1080p)
• Additional Scenes: Deleted Scenes (9:49, SD)
• Theatrical Trailer (2:33, 1080p)
The commentary is an interesting listen, although a bit pretentious at times. The featurettes are definitely worth checking out as they interview the actual LA writer whose book this film is based on. I actually was taken aback by the early discussion in the featurettes where everyone was just saying things like “I definitely saw this as a movie,” as if it was that kind of bankable story. I doubt they meant it as such, but with so many people saying that it came off as that. Still, the rest of the extras are pretty short and brief, but are worth checking out if you enjoyed the film. “Beth’s Story” is a downright depressing narrative which you can find online easily if you so desire. Once again why the deleted scenes are in standard definition, I don’t know, but they are…and without commentary either. Oh well.
Overall a release that’s still Recommended but (in case you didn’t hear it the first twenty times) only for the performances. The story just doesn’t hold up on repeat viewings, even after watching the extras.
The Soloist is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.