The Soloist. Written by Steve Lopez and Susannah Grant. Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.
The Soloist could have been easily called The Duo since it is the true story of how Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez met and tried to “rescue” Nathaniel Ayers, a brilliant Julliard School of Music drop-out and schizophrenic who also happens to be homeless. They develop a symbiotic relationship which proves to be problematic in the long run. The Soloist could also have been named The Multitudes because it is the story of 90,000 homeless persons in the Greater Los Angeles area as incarnated by one lone man.
The story line is archetypical. A burnt-out journalist meets a homeless man when he hears him play classical music with a two-string violin in front of Beethoven’s statue. The journalist is impressed and spins off a column. The column attracts media attention, more columns, a book and political largesse and interest by the public, including the gift of a cello by a retired arthritic music master. It also wins the journalist an award and there is financial success for both of them at the end of the journey. But all’s not well that ends well because Ayers refuses to take medication and remains schizophrenic as well as homeless since he is loath to live in the confines of LAMP, the community home where he is allowed to play the cello.
The story is also a cautionary tale. The roots of homelessness, mental illness, poverty and alienation might be dark and deep but they are certainly intertwined. Treating homelessness as a mere blemish on the face of a city is like treating skin cancer as a cosmetic problem that can be erased with a salve. By the way, the aerial shots of the City of Angels crisscrossed by endless freeways is worthy of a Beethoven symphony.
There is nothing much to be said about the acting, because the actors do not act at all. They just are. Downey’s personal experience with drug abuse (one of the leading causes of homelessness) and Foxx’s musical training inform their work. They embody the characters they play so thoroughly that the audience forgets that they are actors, and not protagonists in this drama. The same could be said for the 500 or so extras that the director hired from the underbelly of Los Angeles. Being homeless and getting paid to depict their plight lends authenticity to the film.
The Soloist is a film to be experienced solo, in duo or in multitudes.