Page 20 THE VILLADOM TIMES I, II, III & IV • May 6, 2009 New movie examines life of homeless man by Dennis Seuling It’s not often that a major Hollywood film focuses on an anonymous homeless person as its central character. “The Soloist,” based on a book by “Los Angeles Times” columnist Steve Lopez, is the most unusual of buddy films. The tale concerns a reporter who comes to see a man who lives on the street as a human being, not just a story. Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) hears the strains of a violin in a Los Angeles park. Following the sound, he discovers a homeless man (Jamie Foxx) accompanied by a shopping cart filled with his worldly goods. Despite the fact that he is playing with only two strings, his music is transporting. Trying to make conversation with the al fresco musician, Lopez learns his name is Nathaniel Ayers. Among a litany of manic babble, Nathaniel mentions that he was a student at Juilliard. Thinking he may have a subject for his next column, Lopez follows up by calling Juilliard and finds out that Nathaniel was a student there years ago, but dropped out after two years despite having enormous promise as a concert cellist. So Lopez writes his story, which touches readers and inspires one of them to donate a cello for Nathaniel. From this point, director Joe Wright focuses on the developing relationship between the two men. Lopez takes an active part in Nathaniel’s well-being, trying to convince him to stay in an apartment, take lessons from a professional cellist, and take medication that will allow him to Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) and Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) in ‘The Soloist.’ lead a less dangerous life. At first regarding him as a helpless child in need of a caretaker, Lopez comes to realize that, even though Nathaniel is mentally unbalanced, he has a will of his own and cherishes his independence. Foxx turns in a memorable performance that runs the gamut from funny, pathetic, angry, to inspiring. If you encountered Foxx in his Nathaniel makeup and costuming, the actor would be unrecognizable and you might cross the street or walk the other way. Foxx truly inhabits the character, and rattles off his seemingly meaningless chatter in rhythm so that his words are not lost amid other dialogue and ambient sound. Every now and then, Nathaniel will say something so bizarrely off the track, one has to laugh. Later, as the Nathaniel/Steve relationship deepens, Nathaniel becomes better at communicating in a normal give-andtake manner. A film like “The Soloist” runs the risk of condescending toward the Nathaniel character by portraying him as a helpless misfit in a big, cruel world. But we never suspect that Nathaniel is not a survivor. If he is mugged, he will carry a two by four with nails as protection against further assaults from street thugs. If he is pushed to take medication, he will protest. And if he believes a friend has betrayed him, he will lash out. Foxx captures the volatility of Nathaniel, but balances it with gentle scenes of a oncepromising musician coping with a society that regards him as an undesirable outcast. Downey has the task of playing many of his scenes in controlled exasperation as Nathaniel repeatedly throws obstacles in the path of Lopez’s attempts to make Nathaniel’s life a little easier. There is definite chemistry between the two actors, and this is the movie’s strength. We come to care about both of them and we willingly follow their journey. Catherine Keener co-stars as Lopez’s estranged wife and boss at the Times, and Lisa Gay Hamilton plays Nathaniel’s sister. There are subplots about Lopez’s troubled marriage and the almost daily layoffs prompted by dwindling newspaper circulation, but these seem present merely to fill out the movie’s two-hour running time. “The Soloist” sparkles when Foxx and Downey are on screen together. Rated PG-13 for scenes of drug use and strong language, “The Soloist” is a well-written, character-driven film with not a single car chase or explosion. It depends primarily on two accomplished actors captivating an audience with thoughtful performances. ����������������������� �������������������������������� ������������������������������������������ �������������������������������� ����������������������������������� ����������������������������� ����������� State Line 375 State Highway 17 North, Mahwah Open 24 Hours, 7 Days Join Us For Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner The Best Got Better! 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