The Soloist

The Soloist


Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

This uplifting and captivating drama is based on the true story of LA Times columnist Steve Lopez and his friendship with homeless musician Nathaniel Ayers - a former prodigy plagued by schizophrenia.

Lopez (Robert Downey Jr) is desperate for a story when he first encounters Ayers playing a two-string violin underneath a statue of Beethoven in a city park. The instrument may be ricketty but the music is incredible. He discovers Ayers is a former Julliard student who battles schizophrenia and he sets out to help him get back on his feet and fulfill his dreams of playing cello in an orchestra.

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But Lopez’s good intentions clash with the harsh reality of Ayers’ condition and the problems faced by LA’s 90,000 homeless. He refuses to give up though - and along the way a bond of friendship forms that will change both their lives forever.

The film examines the fragile line Lopez walks between being a caring citizen and exploiting Ayers for column inches. It shows that while his intentions are good, he is never sure if he is helping Ayers, who seems quite happy in his own secluded bubble away from society and the pressures of playing in an orchestra. And is Lopez allowed to be angry that his Good Samaritan role is unwelcome?

Eventually Ayers is led to the Lamp Community, a housing and care centre, and while he doesn’t magically get better, he is able to integrate into society and be accepted by it. Lopez’s stories about him prompt help for his fellow homeless and get him a new cello, flat and a reunion with his sister.

This film’s real strength lies in the incredible performances of its two leads, particularly Foxx, who gives a vivid and incredibly moving portrayal of this troubled genius. Already a classical pianist, he trained for months to play the cello well. His depiction of schizophrenia is raw and honest - he is tortured by the threatening voices in his head, scared, frustrated and prone to violent outbursts. He rambles on in a stream-of-consciousness style, never focusing on who he is talking about - yet viewers quickly understand his fragile mental state.

Wright does a good job of telling Ayers’ story through flashback, showing his young talent and eventual illness. He also excellently contrasts the rich and cultured face of LA with her seedy underbelly. Ayers and his junkcart nestle outside the glamour of the concert hall he used to call home, while vagrants sleep in tunnels jam-packed with flash sports cars.

Using LA’s real homeless from Lamp also adds an air of authenticity. Overall, this film is an uplifting tale of friendship, tragic circumstances and social injustice. It will make you laugh, cry and think and should not be missed.

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2009
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A writer forms a friendship with a homeless musical prodigy.
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Director: Joe Wright

Writer: Susannah Grant, based on the book by Steve Lopez

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr, Meggan Anderson, Halbert Bernal, Matt Besser, Troy Blendell, Jayce Bradley, Pete Brown, Michael Bunin, Joshua Cabrera, Ralph Cole Jr., Ingrid Coree, Paul Cruz, Marcos De Silvas, Aurelius DiBarsanti

Year: 2009

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK, US, France


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