Quick Pick: “The Soloist”

THE SOLOISTStarring Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Catherine Keener

“The Soloist” is a common tale of a decidedly uncommon friendship — that of homeless schizophrenic/brilliant cellist Nathaniel Ayers Jr. (Foxx) and the L.A. Times columnist, Stephen Lopez (Downey Jr.), who plucked him from slumdog obscurity. Ready to run screaming from the theater? Fight the urge, settle in and prepare to be wowed by two of the strongest performances captured on film in 2009 (and it’s only April). Where Susannah Grant’s screenplay and Joe Wright’s direction demand molasses, Downey and Foxx serve up weary self-awareness infused with much-needed bittersweet humor. Downey gets it right with Lopez, playing him as a glib opportunist who uses Ayers as fodder, then decides he’ll save him by moving him to LAMP, a nearby homeless shelter. Watch Downey closely as he drives up to LAMP’s outskirts and you can see those sanctimonious notions get crunched under the wheels of a skid-row crackhead’s shopping cart. That’s fitting, especially considering Downey doesn’t do warm and fuzzy; even when Lopez strikes a real bond with Ayers, there’s no schmaltz. Hooray for small miracles. That goes double for Foxx, who knows better than to re-enact “Rain Main” (perhaps he followed Col. Lincoln Osiris’ advice?). Here, he goes for understatement, which seems like a miracle in a movie helmed by a director hell-bent on drowning us in tragic-sounding symphonies paired with technicolor, self-consciously “artsy” cuts. Boo to that. There’s a meaty story here, and the real miracle is that Downey and Foxx find the rhythm to make that story as tart as it is believable.

Grade: B-

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