Goodbye Solo

Goodbye Solo


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

When cantankerous 70-year-old white southerner William (Red West) offers Solo (Souléymane Sy Savané) $1000 to take him to an isolated (and elevated) North Carolina beauty spot in two weeks' time and to leave him there, no questions asked, the kind-hearted 34-year-old Senegalese taxi driver (and aspiring flight attendant) has a good idea what William is planning to do. And so Solo takes it upon himself to spend the next fortnight insinuating himself into William's life as his driver.

He ferries the old man to the cinema every night, introduces him to his pregnant Mexican wife Quiera (Carmen Leyva) and beloved nine-year-old stepdaughter Alex (Diane Franco Galindo), and eventually even moves into a motel room with him – all with the purpose of finding out what is troubling William and dissuading him from his carefully scheduled suicide.

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Separated by age, nationality, class, race and language, these two men form an unlikely bond - but as the designated day approaches, their new-found friendship is pushed to the edge. All will be resolved (or not) at Blowing Rock in the Appalachian Mountains, where legend has it that the powerful winds are able to lift back up anything that has fallen.

In his protagonist Solo, director/co-writer Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) confronts us with that rare thing, an unambiguously good man who is determined, beyond all normal bounds, to do the right thing for a complete stranger - even as his own life begins to unravel.

If Solo sounds like a somewhat implausible creation, that is only because our cynical times have little room for Samaritans, and our Western culture (unlike Solo's own) has little respect for the elderly – but in fact Solo is based on a real Senegalese taxi driver whom Bahrani would regularly meet in his home town of Winston-Salem, and the unknown Savané's naturalistic performance turns the potential saint into an altogether more earthly figure of flesh, blood and bone, an imperfect father and husband whose 'preferred clients' include a local drugdealer. Even more grounded is West who brings to William a whole lifetime of experience that includes being both close childhood friend and subsequently bodyguard to one Elvis Presley.

Essentially a film about friendship and its opposite, solitude (note the protagonist's name, enshrined in the title), but also concerned with mortality, identity and family, Goodbye Solo relies on its background calendar countdown, introduced in the opening sequence, to keep the narrative driving forward, so that Bahrani can instead sensibly focus all his attention on the characters and their evolving relationship.

The result is a deeply affecting portrait of the way that we are all changed in small but significant ways by our encounters with others – and the stunning final scenes undo all the usual conventions of cinematic sentimentality, while acquiring an unexpectedly sublime beauty from their mountaintop setting. It is as bracing, and also perhaps as chilling, as the autumn air.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2008
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An unlikely relationship between a grumbling old-timer and a Senegalese taxi driver.
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Director: Ramin Bahrani

Writer: Bahareh Azimi, Ramin Bahrani

Starring: Souléymane Sy Savané, Red West, Diane Franco Galindo, Carmen Leyva, Lane "Roc" Williams, Mamadou Lam

Year: 2008

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: US


London 2008

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