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Wednesday, April 29, 2009 01:02 am

The Soloist is out of tune

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Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. star in The Soloist.

While watching Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. give heartfelt, moving performances in director Joe Wright’s The Soloist, I couldn’t help but think that the filmmaker and the actors were playing different tunes that never quite meshed. As the two gifted thespians pulled out all the stops to deliver moving turns of the troubled men at the film’s center, the filmmaker orchestrating it all seemed a half beat behind them.

OK, enough of the music metaphors. Suffice it to say that Wright and company have their hearts in the right place but their efforts to deliver an inspiring tale of redemption are only half realized. Downey Jr. is Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, a man who can’t make a commitment in his private life as strong as the one he makes to his job. Spying a homeless man in the park who can break your heart with his passionate violin playing, the journalist senses there might be a story he can use staring him in the face. He proves to be right and gets much more than he bargains for when he finds that his subject is one Nathaniel Ayres (Foxx), a musical prodigy who, beset by schizophrenia, dropped out of The Juilliard School and has been living on the streets for years.

As the strings on the soundtrack swell and Downey Jr. gazes soulfully at the troubled man in his midst, you know what path the film is going to take. If you’ve seen the 60 Minutes story on Lopez and Ayres, you’re pretty much clued in as well. Without question, it is a great story, as each man comes to realize things about himself through their friendship that neither would have determined on their own. However, their story deserves a better film treatment than this. Ironically, the rhythm of the movie is lost when Wright provides flashbacks to Ayres’ youth and we witness the birth of his musical passion as well as that of the madness that will derail him. The interaction between Foxx and Downey Jr. is mesmerizing and we grow impatient to return to it, instead witnessing these awkwardly rendered moments from the past. No doubt, there are times when The Soloist soars. However there are an equal number of sour notes that bring it crashing to earth

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