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Joe Wright
Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Meggan Anderson, Halbert Bernal
Writing Credits:
Susannah Grant, Steve Lopez (book)

Life has a mind of its own.

Academy Award nominee Robert Downey Jr. and Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx star in an extraordinary and inspiring true story of how a chance meeting can change a life. The Soloist tells the poignant and ultimately soaring tale of a Los Angeles newspaper reporter who discovers a brilliant and distracted street musician, with unsinkable passion, and the unique friendship and bond that transforms both their lives. The remarkable performances make for an unforgettable experience in what is hailed as "a courageous and uncompromising film"

Box Office:
$60 million.
Opening Weekend
$9.716 million on 2024 screens.
Domestic Gross
$31.670 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.35:1
English Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
French br>Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 8/4/2009

• Audio Commentary With Director Joe Wright
• “An Unlikely Friendship: Making The Soloist” Featurette
• “Kindness, Courtesy and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez” Featurette
• “One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in Los Angeles” Featurette
• “Juilliard: The Education of Nathaniel Ayers” Featurette
• “Beth’s Story” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Soloist [Blu-Ray] (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 29, 2009)

Director Joe Wright follows up his Oscar-nominated 2007 flick Atonement with 2009’s The Soloist. Wright again takes on an adaptation of a book, but here he deals with a true story of mental illness.

As he searches the streets of LA for a story, newspaper columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) encounters a homeless violinist. Despite an instrument missing many strings, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) plays beautifully but speaks incoherently due to schizophrenia. He claims to have attended Juilliard, and Lopez confirms this.

With his curiosity firmly piqued, Lopez delves further into his investigation. He intends to write a column about Ayers and digs into the musician’s past, whereupon he discovers that Nathaniel made his name originally as a cellist. As Lopez discovers more about Ayers’ troubled past, his relationship with the musician develops and becomes part of the story.

Truth to tell, I didn’t enter my screening of Soloist eagerly. Everything about it screamed “sappy Oscar bait”. We have a potentially heartwarming “triumph of the human spirit” story with Foxx in full-on Rain Man mode; how could anything good possibly come of this?

To my surprise, Soloist actually succeeds – most of the time, at least. On occasion, it feels too much like a public service announcement meant to alert us to the plight of the homeless. I certainly don’t mean to minimize that sad state, but the film periodically detours too far from its basic story to show us the poor living conditions suffered by many. The flick doesn’t need to beat us over the head with these moments to make its point; incidental glimpses of the homeless would be more effective than the approach taken here.

Otherwise, Soloist works pretty well. Normally I dislike movies that focus on a black character through the eyes of a white person. That’s seems tacky and patronizing to me, but in this case, the approach makes sense, though not for racial reasons. Instead, the audience simply needs a proxy through which to view Ayers’ tale. Occasionally the movie tries to place the audience in his head, but usually we see things through Lopez’s eyes, and that makes the most sense. Clearly we better identify with the reporter than we do with his schizophrenic subject, so the choice to use Lopez’s point of view instead of Ayers’ is totally appropriate.

It helps that Soloist rarely takes a mushy, sentimental approach, and the actors help maintain that more objective sensibility. Downey doesn’t break a sweat as the cynical, sarcastic character, but he helps keep the film from turning totally schmaltzy. We also get a good turn from Foxx, as he resists the urge to make the character cute ‘n’ cuddly. Ayers shows glimmers of coherence and enough charm for us to see him as borderline likable, but Foxx’s interpretation ensures that we see the scary/off-putting sides most of the time.

The Soloist probably runs about 20 minutes too long, and it veers down too many tangential paths too much of the time. Nonetheless, when it sticks with its core story, it becomes surprisingly involving.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

The Soloist appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Don’t expect any significant concerns in this solid presentation.

Sharpness worked well. Even the widest shots remained well-defined and rock solid, as no issues with softness marred the image. Jagged edges and shimmering failed to appear, and edge enhancement remained absent. Source flaws also didn’t become a factor, as the movie looked clean.

Colors seemed fine. The film tended toward a subdued palette that varied between earthy browns – especially in flashbacks – and chilly blue tone. Within those parameters, the hues appeared satisfying. Blacks were dark and dense, but shadows were a slightly weak link; low-light scenes usually appeared good, but a few appeared just a wee bit too opaque. Nonetheless, I thought the transfer impressed.

As for the Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of The Soloist, it satisfied. Given the movie’s emphasis on character, the soundfield didn’t boast a ton of opportunities to shine; for the most part, it stayed with general ambience. However, some sequences offered great involvement, especially when the flick put us inside Ayers’ troubled mind. Those elements added good information from the side and rear speakers and helped bring the piece to life.

Otherwise, the material remained more ordinary. That didn’t seem like a bad thing, though, as this kind of flick shouldn’t provide consistent whiz-bang audio. Music demonstrated nice stereo presence, and the use of environmental effects pleased.

Across the board, audio quality was positive. Speech sounded natural and distinctive, without edginess or other concerns. Music seemed warm and full, while effects worked well. Those elements came across as concise and accurate. Nothing here dazzled, but the track was good enough for a “B”.

As we head to the set’s extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director Joe Wright. He offers a running, screen-specific track that looks at cast and performances, story and characters, facts and liberties, sets and locations, music, visual design, and a few other production areas.

When he speaks, Wright tends to offer useful information. He covers a good array of subjects and presents a pleasant personality with flashes of dry wit. Unfortunately, Wright goes silent more often than I’d like. The gaps don’t tend to last very long, but they occur too frequently. Despite those, Wright gives us enough good content to make the commentary worthwhile.

A mix of featurettes follows. An Unlikely Friendship: Making The Soloist goes for 19 minutes, 37 seconds and includes remarks from Wright, producers Gary Foster and Russ Krasnoff, writer Steve Lopez, screenwriter Susannah Grant, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, production designer Sarah Greenwood, LAMP executive director Casey Horan, executive producer Patricia Whitcher, Midnight Mission Director of Recovery Services Orlando Ward, the real Nathaniel Ayers, cellist/music technical consultant Ben Hong, artist Sean Daly, LA Philharmonic president/CEO Deborah Borda, LA Philharmonic Director of Public Relations Adam Crane, and actors Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey, Jr., and Catherine Keener. The show looks at the project’s roots and development, the script and story, cast and performances, photography, production design and shooting in LA, working with the homeless, musical elements, and the flick’s ending.

I expect little from featurettes of this sort, but “Friendship” works pretty well. Though it goes by quickly, it covers a lot of good territory, and it does so in a satisfying manner. Some of the material about working with the homeless feels a bit self-congratulatory, but this still ends up as a good program.

Next comes the four-minute and 48-second Kindness, Courtesy and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez. It features Lopez, Ayers, and Nathaniel’s sister Jennifer, as they talk a little about their relationships and current situations. We don’t really learn much here, but it’s nice to see a little more of the real Nathaniel.

We learn a little more about social problems in One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in Los Angeles. The piece goes for nine minutes, 45 seconds and includes comments from Wright, Ward, Horan, Krasnoff, Grant, Lopez, Jennifer Ayers and Foster. We learn about the homeless issue in LA. It does tell us some interesting facts about the problem, but it usually feels more like a public service announcement than anything else. Still, if it helps bring support to the cause, that’s probably a good thing.

For more on the history behind the movie, we head to the four-minute and eight-second Juilliard: The Education of Nathaniel Ayers. It presents info from Foster as he talks a little about Nathaniel’s experiences. It’s less informative than I might expect, however, as Foster mostly just tells us that Juilliard is prestigious. Um, okay – that’s worth a four-minute featurette? Probably not.

Beth’s Story lasts two minutes as it provides a narrated, animated clip that illustrates how someone ends up homeless. It’s effective but still falls into the PSA category.

In addition to the movie’s trailer, we get five Deleted Scenes. These fill a total of nine minutes, 49 seconds and include “Hospital Questions” (1:24), “Audition” (1:16), “I’m No Good” (3:20), “Some Life” (1:16) and “I Want the Concert to Go On” (2:33). All are interesting but superfluous. “I’m No Good” probably makes the best claim for inclusion, as it shows more of Nathaniel’s youthful meltdown, but do we need more of that footage? No, and none of the other scenes seem like they’d be particularly helpful to the story either.

I expected cheesy melodrama from The Soloist, but I got a fairly satisfying character drama. The film boasts some nice performances and a tone that usually doesn’t take itself excessively seriously; all of that allows it to provide an involving tale. The Blu-ray features very good visuals, positive audio and a decent collection of supplements. This becomes a quality release for a surprisingly involving film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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