Review by Hugh Lilly
Joe Wright’s third film after Pride & Prejudice and Atonement seems to be trying to tell two competing stories. One is about a schizophrenic homeless man, played with vivacity by Jamie Foxx, who hears cacophonous voices in his head and speaks in a similar, stream-of-consciousness-like hobo patter. He also happens to be an extraordinarily talented cellist who at one time studied at the Juilliard School in New York City.
The other story is that of a newspaper columnist in search of material for a daily column—an unusually aloof performance from Robert Downey, jr. In discovering the homeless man’s ‘hidden’ talent, the journalist finds his story, and, by extension, the larger situation: namely, how Los Angeles deals with its homeless—essentially, it’s against the law to be of no fixed abode.
The film could have quite neatly and effortlessly dovetailed the two plots—indeed, the latter, which could allow for the presentation of a wider story about the ever-increasing divide between rich and poor in the world’s eighth-largest economy, would have made for an interesting film. Unfortunately, partly because it tries to foreground (and therefore necessarily ‘jazz up’) the journalist’s mundane existence, it fails, spectacularly.
An abundance of overly emotional scenes makes the film vacillate between moments of light comedy, tender encounters and completely over-the-top absurd spectacles—including what can at best be termed an ill-advised Kubrickian light show in the middle of a performance of Beethoven’s third meant to signify some sort of near-religious melding of mind and music.
Wright’s frankly idiotic penchant for long, single-take shots of expansive scenes (seen in Atonement’s recreation of the Battle of Dunkirk) is here indulged, albeit to a lesser degree—only here homeless men and women and their ramshackle surroundings take the place of soldiers on a beach. Sadly, overall, though it contains some terrific performances and is sure to be nominated for a number of Oscars, The Soloist fails on the most fundamental of levels: basic, coherent storytelling.