The Soloist Movie Review

Music and Friendship
by Betty Jo Tucker

In this crazy world of ours, finding a true friend has to be one of life’s most treasured gifts. The Soloist, a film blessed with superb performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, presents this theme through contrasting scenes of great beauty and gritty realism. Seamlessly combining topnotch acting, splendid cinematography, elegant music, impressive writing and a humanistic approach, The Soloist emerges as the best movie so far this year.

Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder) simply couldn’t be better as Steve Lopez, a frustrated Los Angeles Times columnist looking for a story. I think the camera loves this actor almost as much as it adores Johnny Depp. Fortunately, The Soloist features Downey Jr. in a variety of highly interesting close-ups and moods. Watch those dark eyes change as his character goes from curiosity about Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx), a strange homeless man he meets, to amazement while listening to this Juilliard-trained musician play Beethoven on a two-stringed violin. Pay attention to his facial expressions during scenes showing Steve’s determination — and, yes, downright pushiness — when trying to help Nathaniel. Note how his body language registers feelings of depression after some of Steve’s plans just don’t work out. I applaud Downey Jr. at the top of his game here.

Portraying a musical genius suffering from schizophrenia, Foxx (Collateral) succeeds in projecting Nathaniel’s unabated passion for the works of Beethoven. He makes Nathaniel feel believable to us despite his bizarre behavior, which includes rambling, incoherent speeches and outlandish outfits. We even forget Foxx is an actor, especially in such scenes as the one showing his character trying as hard as he can to keep a cello in order to play it in an under-highway tunnel. Because of what Foxx and Downey Jr. bring to the table, interactions between Nathaniel and Steve as their friendship grows are nothing short of priceless, no matter how stormy it becomes at times.

Will Steve be able to help Nathaniel? How much should one person interfere in another person’s life? Is being a good friend enough? The Soloist offers an honest exploration of these questions.

Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (World Trade Center) adds considerable class to this special film. “Architecture is frozen music,” someone once observed, and never before has that statement hit home to me like it does in one lovely sequence from The Soloist. While Nathaniel plays the cello, doves fly over L.A. buildings and call attention to the beauty of the notes being played and the physical artistry of the structures.

In contrast, The Soloist also dramatizes the plight of our country’s homeless population. Disturbing scenes of deplorable living conditions for these forgotten individuals (90,000 homeless people in L.A. alone) shock us into wondering how society could let fellow human beings live in such squalor.

Directed with meticulous care by Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice) from Susannah Grant’s (In Her Shoes) intelligent adaptation of Steve Lopez’s revealing book, The Soloist won’t please viewers looking for sickly sweet entertainment. But those seeking a movie of depth — one that matters — will surely sing its praises, and hopefully through this year’s awards season.

(Released by DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures and rated “PG-13” for thematic elements, some drug use and language.)

For more information about this film, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.

Betty Jo Tucker is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the San Diego Film Critics Society (SDFCS). She teaches an online class, “The Reel Deal: Writing about Movies” for the LSS School of Writing and has published three movie-related books including CONFESSIONS OF A MOVIE ADDICT, an amusing memoir about her life at the movies. Betty Jo serves as the editor/lead film critic for ReelTalk Movie Reviews and hosts a weekly radio show, “Movie Addict Headquarters,” for BlogTalkRadio. She also writes monthly film commentary for the Colorado Senior Beacon. For more information, please go to

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