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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Film

The Soloist (2009)
Directed by Joe Wright starring Robert Downey Jnr and Jamiie Foxx
Daniel Cann

This tells the true story of how journalist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr) met and befriended the homeless but exceptionally gifted musician Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx). From British director Joe Wright (‘Pride & Prejudice’ and ‘Atonement’) ‘The Soloist’ is a powerful and moving film with amazing performances from its central stars as well as solid support from Catherine Keener (of ‘The Forty Year Old Virgin’ fame).

Lopez works for the ‘Los Angeles Times’ newspaper and is struggling to find a topical story until a chance encounter with Ayers playing a violin (with only two strings) next to a statue of Beethoven. Intrigued by the ensuing conversation Lopez decides to tell Ayers story little realizing where it will take both men and their lives.

The film follows the two of them as they form an unlikely friendship as Lopez uncovers more and more about the talented but deeply troubled Ayers. I found myself riveted throughout its duration, testament to the actors’ performances who are totally convincing, giving heartfelt career best performances.

A film that tackles mental illness and homelessness is probably not every cinema goers idea of entertainment but I would urge everyone to see this film as it is such a rare film from Hollywood: a non-glossy ‘warts and all’ account of real life in LA. The city is beautifully shot from all angles, particularly a moment when the camera follows some pigeons as they rise from an underpass right up to the sky. It is also grimly realistic and tackles its strong subject matter head on. I was totally unaware of the huge social problem in central LA where the film informs us there are over 90,000 homeless people. ‘The Soloist’ shows this area and portrays it unflinchingly; it is almost like a community within a city, except it is of the forgotten and displaced. If nothing else it reveals the darker side of our world.

The film avoids being preachy or too schmaltzy. In fact I was very impressed with the restraint and straight telling of everything which is a tribute to the screenplay by Susannah Grant (based on Steve Lopez’s book). Ultimately this is an uplifting film about a tough contemporary subject. It deserves to do well and is a very welcome change to the usual fare from Hollywood. 

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