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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Soloist Review

The Soloist - A Paramount Release



Opens: April 24th, 2009

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug use, and language.

Running time: 109 minutes

Joe Wright (dir.)

Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. as Steve Lopez

Catherine Keener as Mary Weston

Tom Hollander as Graham Claydon

Lisagay Hamilton as Jennifer Ayers-Moore

Our reviews below:


The Soloist Review By John C.

***1/4 (out of 4)

The Soloist is the story of Steve Lopez, a journalist for the LA Times, who goes out to look for a story. What he finds is someone in need of a friend. Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Jr. is a mentally ill homeless man, who sits on the streets playing a two-stringed Violin. The film is based on a book, which is based on a true story. I have been told that the movie serves as a much condensed version of the story compared to the book. Having not read the book, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Now I look forward to reading the book.

The acting by Jamie Foxx, as Nathaniel, is superb. Convincingly playing him, saying things that seem to just pop into his head and sometimes just losing it. Foxx is very believable playing someone with a mental illness, never going over the top. The film was originally going to be released in November, presumably for Oscar consideration. I honestly don’t think it would have been nominated for Best Picture, but some acting noms could have been in the mix.

Although it is at times heartbreaking with it’s images of some of the 90,000 homeless people in LA, it is also uplifting with it’s message that sometimes all people need is a friend. While the film has some minor flaws and it leaves out a lot of the events that happened in real life, sometimes due to timing, sometimes due to it being to hard to film. Problems aside, the characters are unique and believable, if not always likable and the acting is excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it is quite worth seeing. Go out and see it, it will make you think and lift you up.

I liked this film a lot, but not quite enough to warrant a rating of 3 and a half stars, so I am giving it a strong rating of 3 and a quarter.

On a side note, whoever had the idea to play the Angels & Demons trailer before the film should be fired. Angels & Demons is a totally contradictory film to The Soloist, and audiences seeing a human drama may not like being welcomed by a trailer for a violent and disturbing thriller. The two films don’t even share a studio, The Soloist is Paramount and Angels & Demons is Sony.


The Soloist Review By Erin V.

*** (out of 4)

The Soloist is the story of LA Times columnist Steve Lopez who, while on the look out for a new column idea, hears music in the park. Following the sound, he finds a homeless man, playing a two-stringed violin. When the piece stops, he introduces himself, and finds out that this man, who’s name is Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Jr., claims that he was formally a Juilliard School of Music student. Intrigued to know if this is true, Mr. Lopez rushes back to the LA Times building to call Juilliard to confirm. As he gets to know Nathaniel more, he finds out that the instrument he was trained on was cello, not violin. A column develops and finally goes to print called, “Violinist Has the World on 2 Strings”. The column soon catches the attention of many, and a cello is donated for Mr. Ayers. Anxious to get him off the streets, and afraid that the cello will make him a target for theft, Mr. Lopez says that he can play the cello, but only at a shelter called LAMP. For Mr. Ayers, a talented musician, music is his life, and soon the lure of the cello brings him towards shelter.

The Soloist is a true story, the book being written by Steve Lopez himself. (We have included a link to his original articles as well, underneath the movie website address at the top.) Before seeing the movie adaptation of The Soloist, I had read the first 8-10 chapters or so of the book it is based on, (also called The Soloist). The movie is fairly similar to the book, or at least the parts that I have read so far. Unfortunately, the book seems fuller. In the movie, du to time constraints, it seems rushed. For example, it seems as though Mr. Lopez has only known Mr. Ayers for a few weeks by the time he gives him the donated cello that he can only play at LAMP, thus he comes across as more blunt and bossy. In the book, it didn’t seem so much this way, as they had already established a relationship by that point, having known each other for months rather than a mere few weeks.

I would definitely recommend going to see The Soloist. I think those who have not read the book will probably enjoy it slightly more, but should definitely read the book afterwards. Although it could have been done better, possibly by better choices of what to include and what to not, this is a good movie that anyone interested in music will want to see.


The Soloist Review By Nicole

*** (out of 4)

Based on the nonfiction book by Steve Lopez. The Soloist tells the story of an unlikely friendship between journalist Steve Lopez and homeless prodigy Nathaniel Ayers Jr. The movie begins when Steve Lopez is injured after falling off his bike. He is stressed out, and is looking for a fresh idea for his column in The Los Angeles Times. Just when he thinks he is out of ideas, Steve Lopez stumbles across a mysterious homeless man playing a a violin with only 2 strings. The man introduces himself as Nathaniel Ayers Jr., and tells Steve Lopez that he went to Juilliard: He also tells Steve Lopez that he used to play a cello, but now plays a violin, as it is easier to carry. Steve Lopez now has a story, which he entitles “Man has the world on 2 strings”.

Nathaniel’s story touches readers, and one elderly woman donates her cello to Nathaniel. Steve Lopez gives Nathaniel the cello, but only allows him to play it at LAMP, a drop-in/transitional housing unit for homeless people. Nathaniel at first refuses, but later reluctantly follows when bribed with lessons from a cello instructor. Nathaniel’s many struggles, as well as triumphs, make for a thought provoking and uplifting story. We hear of Nathaniel's childhood through flashbacks, and find out what led him to the street. But what struck me the most was how Nathaniel, when he would play music, would become lost in the music. As a musician myself, I found this to be very believable. I really liked the scene where Nathaniel gets so enraptured in listening to a concert, he closes his eyes, and experiences the music synaesthstetacally. (There is no mention to Nathaniel experiencing synaesthsesia in the book.)

I really enjoyed this movie, as the music was beautiful, as was Nathaniel’s devotion to music, particularly Beethoven music. That being said, however, I could only give this movie 3 stars out of 4, because the book was better. In the movie, Steve Lopez is a rather bossy man, who is estranged from his wife and son. In the book, however, Steve Lopez is a happily married man who lives with his 2 year old daughter. He is strict with Nathaniel, but more in a friendly, and parental way. In the movie, we don’t really get a sense of the heartwarming friendship between Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers Jr., because the story is really condensed. That being said, this film really brings to light the often forgotten realities of mental illness, and homelessness that affect people in our cities. Watch the movie, and when you have seen it, read the book.


The Soloist Review By Maureen

*** (out of 4)

I enjoyed watching ‘The Soloist’. Having read the original book ‘The Soloist’ I was a little disappointed that the movie couldn’t do more to give the viewer a sense of the depth of the friendship between Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, Jr. The disadvantage of a movie portrayal is that due to time constraints a movie can’t fill in the background and little details the way a book can. None the less, this is a really nice story.

The Soloist is based on Los Angeles Times journalist Steve Lopez’ articles about a homeless, schizophrenic man, Nathaniel Ayers, Jr. who was a gifted cellist. Steve Lopez discovers Nathaniel among L.A.’s homeless community and is fascinated by Nathaniel playing a two-stringed violin beautifully. Lopez writes the articles, public support floods in and he is able to provide Nathaniel with a cello to play. Over time Nathaniel grows to trust Steve Lopez and a mutual friendship evolves. Steve Lopez helps Nathaniel get into LAMP, a supportive housing unit for individuals struggling with mental illness.

The movie does well showing the difficulties of living with a mental illness and the lack of adequate support for the homeless population in a big city. The movie doesn’t try to come up with pat answers to the issues of mental illness or homelessness. Rather, you come away with the understanding that friendship is what moves us all forward in this life.

I found Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Nathaniel very believable and very moving. Robert Downey Jr. also gave a good performance as Steve Lopez. I’m glad I saw ‘The Soloist’. It moved me and made me think. This movie is worth checking out as is the book.


The Soloist Review By Tony

*** (out of 4)

Nathaniel A. Ayers (Jamie Foxx) is a busker in Los Angeles who has been written about in the L.A. Times columns and book of Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) upon which The Soloist is more or less based. The columns Lopez wrote, about how the homeless Ayers had dropped out of Juilliard due to schizophrenia and moved to L.A. because it was warmer than his hometown Cleveland, were well received. The cello sent to Ayers by an old woman in the film was only one of a number of donated instruments that replaced the two-string fiddle he was found with. Lopez introduced Ayers to the L.A. Philharmonic conductor E.P. Salonen (seen in the film) and he was invited as a fellow musician to attend concert rehearsals and eventually concerts when he was ready. The evangelical cellist played by British actor Tom Hollander is a fictional counterpart to the real mentor, Ben Hong, that Lopez introduced to Ayers. Hong recorded the cello music for the film, and coached Jamie Foxx (a trained classical pianist) to appear authentic on the cello. Lopez also arranged supported housing for Ayers with the Lamp Community and reunited him with his sister. A major conflict arose when Lopez questioned the gentle group counseling approach of Lamp to its people’s mental problems, insisting that aggressive drug therapy was the answer. Fortunately Lopez lost that battle, since despite his challenges Ayers is now doing reasonably well.

The Soloist is the first American film by the British realist director Joe Wright, supported by a largely British creative team. Like Danny Boyle in India, Wright insisted on spending time on Skid Row and a number of its people appear in the film. The Skid Row of 2005 was recreated on an empty lot and the mayor’s “Safer City” attempt to clean it up was reenacted, as it must have seemed to the inhabitants, as a sort of pogrom. Both Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. spent time with their real-life counterparts to get the essence of their characters without trying to impersonate them. The music by Dario Marianelli consists mostly of arrangements of Beethoven, from his 3rd & 9th symphonies, the triple concerto, and the late quartets, where the cello is prominent.

As a lifetime music listener, I really enjoyed this film. Without falling into sentimentality, it celebrates the transcendent power of music despite the real challenges faced by both principal characters. One of my favorite scenes, excerpted on Apple Trailers, shows the donated cello filmed from a camera mounted on a mail cart as it moves through the (actual) L.A. Times editorial offices. Then, when Ayers first takes the cello in his hands, he plays an excerpt from a late quartet that resonates brilliantly in the underpass as pigeons fly up, their flapping wings like applause, as the camera (on a 100 foot crane) soars up with the music through an opening into the air above the birds.


Consensus: Although the book The Soloist, by Steve Lopez, is more well rounded, this movie is still worth seeing, especially for those into music. If you haven’t already, you should definitely read the book as well. *** (Out of 4)

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