Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. Star in a Drama About Skid Row
Based on a true story, The Soloist (2009) is a showcase for the acting of Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. The film also brilliantly captures Los Angeles as a city of striking contrasts, where within walking distance of the graceful stainless steel curves of the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall is the hellish Skid Row teeming with the homeless.
In the movie, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Downey) is strolling in downtown L.A. one day and happens to encounter a homeless, mentally ill man named Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx) playing a violin with only two strings. Lopez learns that three decades earlier Ayers had been a good enough cellist to be a student at Juilliard and writes some columns about him. A Times reader donates a cello, and Lopez tries to use it to get the schizophrenic Ayers to quit living on the streets. But this turns out to be a struggle because Ayers fiercely guards his independence.
Adapted from Lopez' book, The Soloist is a slick, big-studio film with outstanding performances by Downey and Foxx, interesting locations, and evocative soundtrack music, including Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 (Eroica), Neil Diamond singing "Mr. Bojangles" and the Carter Family's rendition of "Can the Circle Be Unbroken." But the filmmakers refused to adhere to Hollywood storytelling formula, and the audience is not allowed to feel good about itself. The movie is set against the backdrop of the demise of print journalism, and it is partly about the power of music, but its strength lies in its nuanced dramatization of the plight of the mentally ill homeless.
The feature-length audio commentary by director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) substantially enhanced my appreciation of The Soloist. He mentions that although Downey's character in the film is a lonely, divorced man, the real-life Steve Lopez is happily married. Wright says that 500 members of the Skid Row community were employed as actors and crew in making the movie. He dedicates his commentary to one of them, Kevin ("KK") Cohen, who was murdered.
The Soloist DVD also contains about 45 minutes of video supplementary material. To get a look at the real-life Steve Lopez and the real-life Nathaniel Ayers, watch the five-minute "Kindness, Courtesy and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez." In addition, there's a fairly good 20-minute making-of and 10 minutes of deleted scenes. Finally, there's the 10-minute "One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in Los Angeles," which emphasizes the need for different kinds of social services for the homeless, and we hear from Casey Horan of Lamp, the organization that offered haven to the real-life Ayers.
Below I have listed all the details for the DVD containing The Soloist.
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Feature Film Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Elements, Some Drug Use and Language
Aspect Ratio 2.35:1, Color
English 5.1 Dolby Surround
Audio Commentary by Director Joe Wright
An Unlikely Friendship: Making The Soloist (20 min.)
Kindness, Courtesy and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez (5 min.)
One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in Los Angeles (10 min.)
Deleted Scenes (5 scenes, total runtime = 10 min.)