The Soloist, Blu-ray (2009)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr.
Director: Joe Wright
Studio: Dreamworks/Paramount 07148 [Release date: Aug. 4, 09]
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 color, 1080p HD
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French & Spanish DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: “An Unlikely Friendship: Making The Soloist ” in HD, Deleted scenes, Commentary track by Joe Wright, others
Length: 117 minutes
The Soloist is based on a series of columns by Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, who later turned them into a book. The subject of the columns was Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless street musician who Lopez happens to hear one day near his office. Lopez is touched to find that Ayers, scraping on a two-stringed violin, once attended Juilliard before schizophrenia sent his life into a spin and he ended up homeless. After the first column – mentioning Ayers used to play the cello – appears, an elderly former cellist who can no longer play due to arthritis donates her instrument and Lopez gives it to Ayers.
Their friendship follows a rough course due to Ayers’ serious mental problems. Lopez secures an apartment for him, but Ayers doesn’t want to live there. He takes Ayers to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic; the new Disney Hall is ironically fairly close to LA’s Skid Row, where something around 80,000 homeless hang out. Finally an apartment is offered as a place for cello lessons from an LA Philharmonic cellist, but when Ayers needs to sign power of attorney papers that mention his schizophrenia he reacts violently. Lopez is entranced by the passion which Ayers has for his music – it seems to be the only element keeping him from total mental collapse. He wants to “fix” him by getting psychiatric and prescription assistance but the director of the homeless center tells Lopez that Ayers is not ready for that and having a friend is more important now. Lopez demonstrates respect and dignity for Ayers and the film also carries this over to all the actual homeless who act as extras in the film.
The roles of the two main characters are beautifully acted by both Foxx and Downey. Downey mentions in the extras how some fine actors just are not believable doing mentally unbalanced – Foxx is. His uncontrolled barrages of words, usually without eye contact with Downey, are upsetting but realistic. Downey is also superb in acting the columnist who on one hand sees the soloist as his ticket to a great series of columns, but on the other is aghast at his situation and that of all the homeless people he runs into. His frustrations at trying to make things better are most affectingly displayed.
Some reviewers have dissed the film as being too sentimental and not morally indignant enough about the horrible homeless and mental health situations, but I found it it dealt with those subjects in a responsible manner that would reach more people as mainstream entertainment. The cinematography is excellent, and the transfer looks superb. It’s also nice to have the big documentary in the extras in hi-def. The few concert performances are delivered in immersive and powerful surround sound. There is a rather odd psychedelic light show that comes up during the final LA Philharmonic concert that Ayers experiences. Perhaps the filmmaker’s intent was to put some images to the passionate attention put on the music by Ayers. It is most edifying to get to see and meet in the extras the actual Ayers and Lopez and hear some of their stories directly from them. Actually, the real Ayers appears less mentally challenged.
– John Sunier