11.36pm - We Interrupt This Broadcast...
Trip Start Nov 03, 2009
20Trip End Dec 02, 2009
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So you thought you’d just be getting my usual witty blend of information and facts about my current location, ah? Well think again, bitches, because having lured you in with my insightful musings on travelling and tales of mad women in Sydney hostelries, I am now going to force an impromptu film review on you. You will listen to whatever thoughts I have to think, peons, and you will like them. Oh yes. Anyway.
I just saw the best film of my fucking life.
Seriously. I don’t think it’s my favourite film – in fact, it will be some time before I watch it again, if ever, because it was so powerful I was literally squirming throughout. But I think my life and my head has been enriched for watching it, and I am utterly blown away by everyone involved, many of whom I will be mentioning by name. Such was the power of this film, I was inspired to grab my trusty laptop and write up my thoughts now before they flit away, making this my first aeroplane blogging effort. So believe me when I say I cannot urge you strongly enough to run, don’t walk, to your local kino and see The Soloist.
Jamie Foxx has been riding high ever since his Oscar-winning turn as Ray Charles in the biopic Ray, and fellow Best Actor winner Robert Downey Jr has followed years of critical acclaim with commercial success in recent years with his turn in the Iron Man franchise. Director Joe Wright turned out a perfectly adequate and beautifully shot version of Pride & Prejudice (it’s not his fault that Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle had already cornered the market on Darcy and Elizabeth while Matthew MacFayden and Keira Knightley were still waiting tables) and followed it with his stunning and adept adaptation of Atonement, which not only did justice to its source material, but arguably surpassed it. But the combination of bringing these three cinematic powerhouses together, and backing them up with talent like Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander and the fantastically versatile Nelsan Ellis (recently of Alan Ball’s True Blood) has produced a truly majestic result.
Foxx stars as Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Jr, a homeless man whose gift for music is matched only by his unending passion for Beethoven. Unfortunately, Ayers’ career as a potential world class cellist was cut short when he quit the Julliard School of Music after beginning to suffer from schizophrenia. Years later, he is befriended by Steve Lopez (Downey), a journalist who is drawn one day to the sound of this man expertly playing a beaten up violin with only two strings. Lopez initially believes Ayers’ story is worth an article or two, but as he becomes more and more involved in Ayers’ life, he realises there could be a book in this. That book, written by the real Steve Lopez, is what The Soloist is based on, and quite honestly I can’t wait to get off this damn plane and find myself an English language bookstore so I can buy it.
Downey’s performance is incredible, as is typical of the man who can with one hand, make you love a white Australian dressing up as a black American and with the other, portray one of cinema’s most abiding legends with such realism that it’s almost shocking to see scenes of the man himself at the end of that biopic and have him not look like Downey. He is constantly struggling between his journalistic curiosity, his genuine desire to help this man, and his fear of intimacy, both with his family, represented by his ex-wife and boss Catherine Keener, and with Ayers, who becomes increasingly and almost frighteningly dependent on him. You can see every inch of his discomfort and frustration towards Ayers, the patronising pity he sometimes displays, and finally the sadness he feels in accepting that he cannot fix this man, he cannot save him from himself. Lopez is portrayed as likeable but flawed, and wholly human, with all that that entails – an impressive task, considering that the real Lopez came up with the source material.
Joe Wright has rarely put a foot wrong in his previous directing efforts (see the six minute long single shot Dunkirk beach scene in Atonement, for a prime example of his prowess), and this latest addition is no exception. Ayers’ backstory, how he came to live on the streets of Los Angeles, is seamlessly interwoven with the present day story of his involvement with Lopez. (Not to continue to harp on about Atonement, but Wright accomplished the same non-linear storytelling with equal success in that film.) He also keeps the story very tight on the characters involved – if it were not continually mentioned that Lopez is a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, it would be possible to forget which city the tale is set in altogether. He wastes no time on sweeping glamour shots of the city – this isn’t about making the characters’ world look pretty, after all. Ayers is homeless in a dangerous urban environment, and the shelter where he spends time is a distinctly unglamorous example of LA’s underbelly. This film isn’t supposed to seem pretty. It’s supposed to seem real. There is a fantastic example of this in the juxtaposition of overhead shots of the city as viewed from a plane, making it appear to be a sea of swimming pools and condos (which also serves as a visual representation of the strong theme of grace – the world as viewed from Heaven), followed by Wright immediately bringing you straight back to earth by taking you to the homeless shelter and reminding you that the shiny happy people aren’t the only residents of the City of Angels.
Overall, however, the film is ruled by Foxx. His characterisation of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers is sensitive, moving, and profound, but never strays into being sappy or Narm-y (that’s not really a word, but I can’t think of the word I need because the stupid internet term for “it’s supposed to be sad but the scene is overplayed and you just end up laughing instead” is circling my brain like a greyhound - apologies). Instead, you feel, as Lopez feels, the compassion for this tortured soul, whose ability to enjoy and nurture his unique gift is being taken away by his own brain. And then you equally feel the discomfort – the “otherness” of this man, how intimidating it can be to feel as though any second you will say or do the wrong thing and not only will you not be politically correct (an everpresent danger when dealing with a mentally ill black man, of course), but you may end up in real danger. Ayers isn’t always in control of himself, and woe betide you if you cross him. Foxx makes you love this man, but never trivialise or underestimate him, and as Sean Penn could tell you, it’s a thin tightrope for an actor to walk. Like your man said – never go full retard.
Foxx is guaranteed to garner another Oscar nomination for his performance here, and I’d be amazed if Downey and Wright don’t get the nod too. The Soloist is, as I said at the beginning, a powerful film. Not everyone will love it. Some, I imagine, will downright loathe it. But I defy anyone to watch this film and not feel a totally visceral reaction to it. The soundtrack alone, which is ruled like Ayers himself by the classical composers, demands it. And the performances of the lead actors involved guarantees it.
Okay, I’ll stop being wanky now. That was my audition for Empire for the day. Any factual errors I apologise, I’m working from memory here and have no IMDb to back me up on the research. Ditto the bits where I stop being Journalist Susan and stray into Blogging Susan – obviously I’d tidy this up for publication. I’ll continue to warn you if I feel the need to go off on one like that again, you can skip it.
In other news, I am very intimidated by the fact that I don’t speak Spanish on this exceedingly Spanish airline. I feel like the spazzy English girl come to play at being international. God only knows what I’ll be like in Argentina itself. (Oh, I’ve just realised why – I have extremely, EXTREMELY rudimentary Spanish but I couldn’t understand a word. It’s because TAM isn’t a Spanish airline, it’s a Brazilian one – they’re speaking Portuguese. Doy.)