He’s Got a Friend

26 Apr

“I’ve had a few setbacks,” says Nathaniel Ayers by way of explaining why he, a talented musician, is living on the street. The same could be said about Jamie Foxx, who, after starring in Ray and winning an Oscar, went a long time before he found a role as good. With The Soloist, Foxx finally has a chance to show filmgoers how good an actor he can be. As Ayers, a schizophrenic, Julliard-trained homeless man, Foxx gives a moving performance. He never once resorts to caricature, and he makes you wish he took on such serious roles more often.

The Soloist is not a one-man movie, of course. Robert Downey Jr. plays Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist who meets Ayers one day by chance and becomes his friend. He, too, gives an impressive performance. In a refreshing change from most movies of this type, Lopez is no perfect white knight. He’s wary of getting too involved with Ayers, and he loses his patience at times. Screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) and director Joe Wright (Atonement) don’t give Lopez some cheesy realization scene either when he realizes the impact he’s had on Ayers’ life, nor do they create a lame montage of reader reactions. Both are much appreciated. (By the way, this film is based on a true story, and on Lopez’s book of the same name. )

Like State of Play, The Soloist seeks to canonize newspapers and newspaper reporters, showing the lengths they will go for a story and the ways their work can be effective. There’s a welcome believability to it here that doesn’t feel forced or heavy-handed. Further authenticity comes from the fact that Wright uses actual homeless people as extras and in small supporting roles, not actors. And I suppose it should also be noted that the music is quite nice, even if it is mostly string instruments (and you know how I feel about those).

The Soloist was originally supposed to be released last fall, in the heart of Oscar season, but it was delayed. Usually that’s a bad sign, but not here. That said, the film’s good, but I don’t think it would have been a strong awards contender. Releasing it now allows The Soloist to get a little more attention, something it deserves. I’m giving it a strong B.

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