Joe Wright, director of Atonement, switches his English manor houses for the streets of downtown Los Angeles in this meaningful and profound drama.
It is a drastically different view from the glamorised L.A we are used to seeing and the film uncompromisingly avoids giving the story a typical Hollywood style sugar-coating.
Based on a true story, journalist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) struggles to find a refreshing and original topic to write about for his L.A Times column. After a bike accident he meets homeless Julliard dropout, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) who is playing a dilapidated old violin with only two strings. Lopez stops to listen to his music. Though he is talented he is also troubled and suffers from schizophrenia, making the prospective article all the more interesting for Lopez. Though at first he is only interested in his story, the two develop a friendship and Lopez works hard to not only help Ayres turn his life around but the lives of hundreds if not thousands of other homeless people in the terrifying area where Ayres lives.
The film is well directed despite a few slightly overlong scenes of Ayres playing the cello, and includes some interesting camera shots and techniques, notably the representation of music through coloured lights. The issues of homelessness and mental illness explored throughout the film are handled skilfully. The use of voices really adds to understanding the mind of a schizophrenic and leaves the viewer feeling as disorientated as Ayres. The progression of his disease is also illustrated well through flashbacks of his childhood and how he fell in love with music.
Wright actually hired real homeless people from the streets of L.A to star in the film, which reflects the intentions Downey Jr.’s character has of helping the community.
Both Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie fox give excellent performances and Foxx is especially convincing as a schizophrenic. The friendship the two develop is really quite touching at times, as is the progression of Downey Jr.’s character. Upon first entering the LAMP homeless shelter you can feel his discomfort as he locks his car and makes his way through the crowds but by the end of the film he has become close to many members of the community.
The conclusion of the film leaves the viewer neither emotionally drained nor leaping for joy but there is a certain amount of resolution. Interesting questions are raised and Lopez himself wonders how much he has really helped Ayres. Overall The Soloist is a meaningful and thought provoking tale with aspects of humour, which leaves me looking forward to Wright’s next project.