Tuesday, August 4, 2009

DVD review: "The Soloist"

I don't usually do this sort of thing. But if you're one of those people who skipped going to see "The Soloist" in theaters -- and judging by its modest box office receipts, that's most of you -- then you owe it to yourself to see this movie on video.

The best drama of the first half of 2009, "The Soloist" is not a crowd-pleasing film that hits the expected inspirational notes in its tale of two fractured souls. It's the story of a pair of men who are each in their own way damaged as humans, and find a bit of solace in their unexpected friendship.

But they do not fundamentally change as people. As the end credits roll, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr., in a career-capping performance) is still a lonely newspaper columnist cut off from those around him, and Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) is still suffering from schizophrenia, and playing his music on the streets.

What makes their journey indispensible is the exploration of how their friendship gives them a sense of meaning that allows them to carry on, despite their differing challenges. Lopez writes about Ayers in his column, and Ayers is allowed to deepen his passion for music.

The DVD arrives with a healthy set of extras. There's a 20-minute making-of documentary, five deleted scenes, a short featurette with the real Nathaniel Ayers and Steve Lopez, a look at the dire homeless situation in Los Angeles, and a short animated film about a woman who loses her home.

All of this is somewhat rote, although the commentary track by director Joe Wright is refreshing for his tendency to ramble on amusingly about what inspired him while shooting particular scenes. One interesting revelation is that while Wright encouraged his actors to improvise dialogue, Foxx's disjointed speeches and strange verbal associations were taken directly from Susannah Grant's screenplay.

Movie: B+
Extras: B

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