The Soloist (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
July 27, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“Magnificent performance by Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. A moving and powerful film which is based on a true story that is truly an eye opener to the homeless problem in America.”
©Paramount Home Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Soloist
DURATION: 116 minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French/Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French and Spanish
COMPANY: Paramount Home Entertainment
RATED: PG-13 (For Thematic Elements, Some Drug Use and Language)
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Directed by Joe Wright
Based on a book by Steve Lopez
Screenplay by Susannah Grant
Executive Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Jeff Skoll, Patricia Witcher
Produced by Gary Foster, Russ Krasnoff
Co-Produced by Rikki Lea Bestall, Leeann Stonebreaker
Music by Dario Marianelli
Director of Photography: Seamus McGarvey
Edited by Paul Tothill
Casting by Francine Maisler
Production Design by Sarah Greenwood
Art Direction by Greg Berry, Suzan Wexler
Set Decoration by Julie Smith, Katie Spencer
Costume Design by Jacqueline Durran
Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Ayers
Robert Downey Jr. as Steve Lopez
CAtherine Keener as Mary Weston
Lisa Gay Hamilton as Jennifer
Nelsan Ellis as David
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 street musician, with unsinkable passion, and the unique friendship and bon that transforms both their lives. The remarkable performances make for an unforgetting experience in what is hailed as “a courageous and uncompromising film” (Gene Shalit, TODAY).
In 2005, Los Angeles Times writer Steve Lopez captured the hearts of thousands of readers with his columns about a former Juilliard musician named Nathaniel Ayers who is living on the streets. After several columns, Lopez and Ayers would be featured on 60 Minutes and capture the attention of how two people who are absolute different, become good friends.
In 2008, Steve Lopez would write a book based on his experience with Nathanial Ayers but also give attention to the homeless in LA’s Skid row. That book would then become a film.
The film version of “THE SOLOIST” is directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement” and “Pride & Prejudice”) and would feature a screenplay by Susannah Grant (“28 Days”, “Erin Brockovich” and “Charlotte’s Web”), music by Dario Marianelli (“Atonement”, “The Brave One” and “My World”) and cinematography by Seamus McGarvey (“Atonement”, “World Trade Center” and “Sahara”).
The film features a talented cast with Robert Downey Jr. (“Iron Man”, “Tropic Thunder”, “Charlie Bartlett”, etc.), Jamie Foxx (“The Kingdom”, “Jarhead”, “Ray”), Catherine Keener (“Capote”, “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Solstice”) and Nelsan Ellis (“True Blood”, “The Inside” and “The Express).
The film is about a divorced L.A. Times news reporter named Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) who is looking for news to write about and one day, while out and about in L.A.’s Pershing Square, he hears a homeless man named Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) playing a two string violin. Despite the two strings, he’s playing it extremely well. But what catches his attention is that Ayers has told him he was a student at the prestigious performing arts school, Juilliard. As a writer, this peaks Lopez’s interest in how can a homeless man who attended Juilliard be out in the streets. What is his story?
While doing his research to find out if what Ayers has told him is true, Lopez learns that he was a talented student at Juilliard in the 70’s for two years but for some unexpected reason, he had dropped out. In fact, through his research, he realized that Nathaniel was exceptionally talented and those who taught or had the opportunity to work with him, saw his wonderful talent.
Lopez manages to contact his sister Jenny (Lisa Gay Hamilton) who explains a little bit about Nathaniel. Lopez learns through his research that Nathaniel’s main instrument is a cello and during his time in Juilliard, he suddenly became sick (we see images of how Nathaniel starts hearing voices in his head that would not stop. Symptoms of schizophrenia.)
But for Nathaniel, there seemed to be a peace for him living on the streets and playing his music.
After the first column was published in the L.A. Times, many people felt passionate about the story that one woman who played the cello was unable to do so, due to her severe arthritis. She requested for Lopez to give it to Ayers in which he did. By then, Lopez used the cello as a way to get some help for Nathaniel and to play at Lamp Community which treats the mentally ill (but as a way for him to receive some treatment himself).
But its the discovery of what Steve Lopez sees while developing this friendship with Nathaniel (and more columns to follow), which is the homeless on skid row. People living on the streets, where people just sleep anywhere they can, occasional fighting, deaths. These are people like Nathaniel who have a story of their previous life before becoming homeless and these people, Lopez would meet and get to know their story and become part of his columns.
But as the film would cover this growing relationship between Lopez and Ayers (especially Lopez doing what he can to help Ayers), we see Lopez as a man who not showed the same compassion towards his own family and thus it becomes a film about self-discovery. As Lopez will learn a difficult lesson about himself but also a film that shows how bad the problem of homelessness is in Los Angeles (the #1 city with homeless in the country and over 900,00 people are homeless in the city).
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“The Soloist” is presented in 1080p High Definition. For the most part, the picture quality is absolutely vibrant and colorful. During the day scenes, we are exposed to the grit and grime of where Nathaniel is living and also, during the night where we see Skid Row in its most unpleasantness.
There is plenty of detail from the dirt and grime on the faces of people, the detail of trash and whatever the homeless can find that would benefit them. For Nathaniel, from the things that he wears on his body, to the paint on his face revealing the cracks and unevenness of the paint, the detail is there. From well-defined edges and revealing textures. During daylight scenes, picture quality is vibrant. During the night time scenes, black levels are quite good. Overall, a solid transfer.
As for the audio, audio is presented in English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD (also, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital). Dialogue remains crisp and clear but the music is what comes alive in this film. Your front channel speakers definitely makes the soundscape much more immersive. There is a fair amount of ambience as well from the surrounds. For a film that doesn’t have special effects but depends on its dialogue and music, “The Soloist” is well done for a film of this nature.
Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
Special features included on this Blu-ray are:
- Audio Commentary by Joe Wright – A very passionate commentary with Joe talking about certain scenes of the film, working with the talent but also his goal of what he wanted to accomplish by experiencing Skid Row for himself and how the film became a mission to show how bad things are.
- An Unlikely Friendship: Making the Soloist – (19:35) Presented in High Definition, this featurette is about how the Producers came to a decision to make Steve Lopez’s book into a film. Filming in Skid Row, filming of the L.A. Philharmonic and actual situations that happened in the film and talking to the real people that the film is based on. Also, interviews with the talent in the film.
- Kindness, Courtesy and Respect – Mr. Ayers and Mr. Lopez – (4:48) Both Nathaniel Ayers and Steve Lopez talk about their respect for each other and what it has meant for each of them to have this special friendship with one another.
- One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing homelessness in Los Angeles – (9:45) Interview with Director Joe Wright, Producer Russ Krasnoff, Orlando Ward (Director of Recovery Services at Midnight Mission), Casey Horan (Executive Director of LAMP) and screenwriter Susannah Grant and those involved with helping the homeless but also showing us how bad things are in Los Angeles but what they are doing to help the homeless through programs and services.
- Juilliard: The Education of Nathaniel Ayers – (4:06) Producer Gary Foster talks about Juilliard, the significance of a young black man in the 1970’s who received a scholarship to learn at the prestigious school and also a day when Yo Yo Ma met Nathaniel Ayers.
- Beth’s Story – (2:00) A short animated film about a girl named Beth on how she came from a great family, upon an accident which claimed her parents, her life as a child, an adult and how she became homeless. How each person on the street has a story, not all were born homeless.
- Deleted Scenes – (9:47) Six deleted scenes which include: Blood, Hospital Questions, Audition, I’m no Good, Some Life, I want the Concert to Go On
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:32) The original theatrical trailer
“The Soloist” is a powerful film and an eye-opener of how compassion and friendship can go along way in helping people in need.
For the most part, “The Soloist” puts Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx in a film that features another major performance of both their careers. The two do a stellar job but for the film as a whole, it is a powerful and moving film but where a film would start to pick up steam as it nears the end, “The Soloist” stays consistent with a little drop off. And I suppose the fact is that the story of Nathaniel Ayers is still ongoing. Both Lopez and Ayers are friends and it was very important for the film to not have a false happy ending because like in real life, this story is ongoing.
And that is where the problem of the film and what people may have with it. If anything, a film that deals with schizophrenia will easily be compared to the Academy Award winning film “A Beautiful Mind” and “Shine”. The films which both definitely had a memorable final hour and really showed us the state of mind of one with the mental illness. These films were dramatic and surprising. But for “The Soloist”, the film was about friendship between a writer who has his life changed by meeting this talented performer with schizophrenia and is homeless.
If you have read any of the columns by Steve Lopez, we are moved and inspired by his compassion. As we are in the film. But for a film, many people expect a storyline that ends with a happy or bad ending. An ending that will make us laugh, make us cry or make us grinning on our way out to the car. I felt none of that.
As a viewer, first and foremost, I will say that I was entertained and enjoyed the film. With that being said, it was a film that I was just content with the message but as a film, I was feeling more of “is this it?”
But for the Blu-ray release, there is an important message through this film and the Blu-ray and that is the problem of the homeless in Los Angeles. How compassion has helped one man, how much it could help many people for those who donate their time. A doctor, a dentist or someone with provides a service and willing to donate their time in helping the homeless. And that compassionate side of me, enjoys “The Soloist” because of that message and what is featured on the special features is definitely is an eye-opener.
Needless to say, “The Soloist” is a moving and powerful film but it’s a film that falls short of greatness. As a Blu-ray release, its no doubt a release that is going to entertain and open ones eyes to a major problem that exists nationwide but for a film with two stellar performances, the story of “The Soloist” is for the most part, average at best.
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