Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Catherine Keener
Director: Joe Wright
Runtime: 117 min.
Verdict: A film conflicted between the middle-browed pretentious aesthetics of its filmmaker and the quite compassionate story at the center. And no, a conflict that is not in the least fascinating.
Genre: Drama

        This is the problem when a Joe Wright tries to be a Gus Van Sant. It just doesn’t stick. As was the case with that atrociously out-of-place Dunkirk single-shot, Mr. Wright, who harbors great ambitions of being heralded as a modern artiste, doesn’t seem to have found yet a seamless enough blending of his artistic cinema-flourishes and his rather predictable structuring of narratives. So much so that sequences, which otherwise seem to be having great meaning and great life in them (courtesy two great actors), are reduced to evoking emotions from a rather shallow spectrum. It is jarring as Mr. Wright’s middle-browed aesthetics conflict with the much deeper story that is unfolding.
        When I describe a particular film as drama, what I seek from it is essentially a two-fold question – How much more does it know about life than me, and, How good is it portraying that richness? The Soloist, adapted from Steve Lopez’s book, does contain positive answers to the first part, in that, there’s a wholly truthful portrayal of a medical condition, not pandering to manipulate audiences into false emotions (A Beautiful Mind). I applaud Mr. Foxx for a magnificently courageous performance. Yet, the film doesn’t seem to be inspired by it, instead indulging in images of false poetry, false humanity and above all else, false artistry. Nathaniel Ayers Jr. (Mr. Foxx), a musical prodigy and a Julliard dropout owing to schizophrenia, is mesmerized in the illusions of an empire where Ludwig Van reins supreme, yet Mr. Wright deems it worthwhile to cut away from the magnificence of that face, and instead gaze, with an eye dripping with faux compassion I might add, at the kitschy image of countless homeless of the streets of Los Angeles. When Ayers is so completely immersed in playing the new cello gifted by an old woman who has been deeply moved by Mr. Lopez’s articles in the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Wright deems it worthwhile to indulge in another one of his faux artistry as we literally see parakeets flutter their feathers (clap), and fly out through the tunnel into the world above Ayers. Reader, imagine, how beautiful it would have been had the filmmaker resisted his shallow temptations, and instead relied on the talent of his actor, and only showed us the emotions on him, and his lone audience. Mr. Wright seems to be under the impression that virtuoso shots alone evoke emotions within us audience. As an audience, for the record, I state again –
                1. In a drama, the composition of an image ought to come from the heart, otherwise it isn’t a drama no more.
                2. Manipulation of audience can be deemed worthy of respect and applause only when it is a thriller. Manipulation based on emotions is cheap.
                3. There is no shorthand to emotions in a film. That is the job of a film, and a filmmaker – to carve out the journey for the audience to reach the emotional state of the characters within the narrative. Otherwise, I daresay, there isn’t any point to the whole exercise. No Country For Old Men might be a mighty fine exercise in audience manipulation but it is a pathetic failure when it comes to charting the emotional journey of Ed Tom Bell. The audiences just never got there.

        With regards to point # 3, The Soloist does cover a whole lot of distance in understanding the true emotions that might be faced while dealing with paranoia. Steve Lopez, played quite brilliantly by Mr. Downey Jr., is no Alicia Nash whose character was given frustrations only to register melodramatic effect, and to cause plot propulsion. He is helping out a mad homeless man, but in quite a lot of ways, he is helping himself out. There are occasions he is frustrated, but neither the actors nor the film make any deal of fuss out of it. The treat it as part of the daily routine, as moments and not as events, and I find that quite commendable. Yet Mr. Wright, behind these scenes of natural beauty, seems to be harboring a hidden agenda, wherein he is cutting the film from one such scene to the next for no apparent reason other than to feel something specific when the sequence is ready to offer a lot more. Just like his fellow filmmaker from the U.K. Sam Mendes, Mr. Wright seems to have a penchant for beautiful/striking images, which have absolutely no emotional resonance. During one sequence, in a concert, we also witness the filmmaker’s ambition to emulate Stanley Kubrick’s stargaze in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and actually visualize to us the music that is playing within Ayers’ mind and heart. Unfortunately, it looks and feels as inert and as out of place as one of those visualizations in the Windows Media Player. It is simple, Mr. Wright’ camera isn’t truthful enough. A Gus Van Sant, and we would be talking of Academy Awards for both Mr. Foxx and Mr. Downey Jr. And a film, where there would be no need of the clich├ęd final few moments of closure, for this is a tale where every moment together for these two soloists was about closure. I got to say this – Van Sant and Mann are blessings to us from the almighty.

1 comment:

Atul said...

Hi, nice blog. i had also watched this movie last weekend , it was nice to watch The soloist movie as my friends were also with me.