Having casually checked this out recently, knowing absolutely nothing about the film beforehand except from its brief description on cable, which sounded interesting to me, I was and will forever continue to be, stunned by how great this movie is, for me at least. I have since watched extended parts of it as well as the whole thing, several times, have permanently recorded it onto DVD for future enjoyment, and my initial reactions remain the same with each viewing. This is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. The fact that this didn't really make any box office buzz or profit is not surprising, given the subject matter. But the generally favorable but highly mixed, both positive and negative feelings and opinions about it from other reviewers and critics, and especially the lack of industry awards for this (i.e., Golden Globes, Oscars, etc.), are puzzling to me.
IMHO, this film is simply wonderful throughout, beginning to end, and has moved me to very moist eyes upon each and every viewing, tears of both profound sadness and sublime joy alike. I suspect that most people who have seen this, and have given it thumbs down, are missing the boat here. Although I always try to give, at times grudgingly, respect for the opinions, beliefs, and feelings of intelligent, enlightened folks, no matter what the film, I find it hard to fathom how and why anyone could watch this, stick with it to the end, and not see this as something really special.
The first time I watched this "cold," knowing almost nothing about it and only later discovering that it was all based upon a true story and the characters based upon real people, I nonetheless strongly suspected such was the case early on in the film and to the finish. It just had to be, I reasoned, because so many Los Angeles locales and environments, and particularly specific "Angeleno" details and ideas explored within it, rang so true and familiar to me. This is because of my own personal experiences with LA-centric, relevant places, people, concepts, issues, and events of substance and reality, for nearly a third of my lifetime.
Perhaps the main reason why a lot of folks who didn't or don't think that highly of this as I do, is because of this lack of personal connectedness to it, which I have and they may not. And that goes to all the filthy rich big shots of Hollyweird who chose to basically ignore this, come awards time. I accept these factors as givens, but honestly, this film has universal themes and observations, which really should appeal to most common people with sentimental hearts and rational minds. That this didn't seem to resonate powerfully with more upon release or since, I can accept. But it's a shame, because this really is extraordinary filmmaking, and distinctively honors what it apparently sets out to pay homage to, throughout.
The film, screenplay adaptation by Susannah Grant, is based on a series of columns written by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, who chronicled the plight of Mister Nathaniel Ayers, Jr., a middle-aged, homeless, drifting LA "crazy," but a former Julliard-trained musician with schizophrenia, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. The beginnings of this project were eventually inspired by and detailed in Lopez's book "The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music" which was published in the spring of 2008.
Nicely but not heavy-handedly or intrusively directed by Joe Wright, starring Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel and Robert Downey Jr. as Steve, the movie features original soundtrack music from Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning composer Dario Marianelli, as well as subtle and intense excerpts from works by Beethoven and the enchanting Cello Suite No. 1 by Bach. Needless to say, throughout, great music and the possible redemptive love, "grace," and healing power of it (with even a bit of Neil Diamond thrown in), plays a big part here. But within that basic structure and notion, a superlative visual and cinematic rendering of same, exemplifies the life-changing supremacy of simple friendship which can develop between often-disparate human beings, and which can bring to each, symbiotic rewards. For "the soloist" here doesn't just apply or refer to homeless, at times obviously schizophrenic but talented Nathaniel, but to Steve the talented and humanistic yet cynical reporter as well. By film's end, both forge a life-affirming relationship, despite their immensely different personal blessings and circumstances in life. A real life, rewarding relationship and friendship which apparently continues to present day.
Detailed musical and visual bits in this movie take quite moving and unexpected twists and turns throughout, more than once from far above and apart from the noisy madness of Los Angeles. And about an hour into the film, it unashamedly ventures (when Nathaniel closes his eyes and listens to a full symphony orchestra playing Ludwig Van) into a very delightful and totally spiritual, "closed-eye vision" colorful representation of music as might've been imagined by the late, legendary experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. This "closed-eye" section, while brief, came as a complete surprise to me, but should resonate with anyone who has ever really experienced firsthand, the exquisite "beauty" of great music as a transcendental art form. Truth be told however, these moments are only a few in a series of ever meaningful and majestic ones, in what I consider a virtually perfect film.
This movie is not without its lighter sides, and brief but effective moments of humor, but is at its best when relating various true, and serious elements of the modern USA, social/civilized failings as a whole. These range from the obvious, yet-unlearned tragedies/lessons of Hurricane Katrina's impoverished masses, to its equating of those with the continuing utter shame of LA's skid row and homelessness problems and our whole depraved "health-care" system. Also dealt effectively with is the complex and at times troubling, but deeply romantic (in the classic sense) relationship between Lopez the reporter and his ex-wife and co-worker/boss. As well as the search for connectedness to their fellow human beings in a world seemingly gone mad, among which all the characters in this movie, share equally.
As I've said, this film deals with subjects, people, places, and situations which are uniquely familiar to me, having spent so much time in Southern California in circumstances similar to both that of Mister Steve Lopez and Mister Nathaniel Ayers. Jr. At times there, I was near the top, and other times near the bottom. And I can speak with factual understanding of being both a part of the highs of the fancy award ceremony world of mayors and celebrities which Lopez experiences, to nearly being homeless out there myself in the unbelievably bleak environment of skid row and surroundings, which makes up Nathaniel's world.
I could write so much more in praise of this amazing filmic endeavor, but I will just say this in closing. This is truly a work of art, its power and realism enhanced by true events and people and locales, and while it may not be fully appreciated as I write this, I'm sure in the future, it will be seen as a classic, great film with a message which almost everyone, in time, should eventually identify with, in a very special, if wholly individual way. And by the way, again, the very title refers both to Mr. Ayers AND Mr. Lopez, if some haven't caught on or never will, to that.
This is a work, minute by precious minute, to be revered and cherished forever, which I at least, most certainly will.