Downey Jr. and Foxx shine in ‘The Soloist’

Meghan Bogardus

Nothing quite says “down on his luck” like Robert Downey Jr. hitting the pavement face-first in a bike accident. This is how “The Soloist” begins, and it’s followed by surprising humor in the rest of the film.

Real quick:

The Soloist

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx,

Catherine Keener

Directed by Joe Wright

Distributed by

Dream Works

Rated PG-13

Runtime 109 mins.

Stater rating (out of five): ★★★★☆

Downey Jr. plays Steve Lopez, a columnist at the Los Angeles Times who is desperate for a story. He even tries writing a story about blood despite his fear of needles, which leads to a hilarious incident involving a urine sample and using coyote pee to prevent raccoons from digging up his grass.

But when Steve follows the sound of violin music in downtown Los Angeles, he stumbles upon the ultimate story in the form of Nathaniel Ayers, played brilliantly by Jamie Foxx.

Foxx is almost unrecognizable as the homeless musician who plays beautifully with only two strings. From his unkempt hair and mismatched outfits, to his incoherent and constant babbling, Foxx is the source of much of the movie’s humor; yet, he is also the basis of the movie’s heart. A viewer can’t help but be drawn in by him – the same way Lopez is. Nathaniel’s story is a great tragedy, but it is also full of hope.

He began as a child prodigy in Cleveland, playing the cello only because so many children in his small school wanted to play the piano. But, he excels and is instantly recognized as a great talent.

Justin Martin plays the young Nathaniel and portrays the precocious boy with ease. It is easy to see a little bit of Foxx’s rambling in Martin’s enthusiastic words, making it truly seem as though they are portraying the same person.

Nathaniel then ends up at Juilliard, where the reason why he is homeless as opposed to a famous cellist is revealed: Nathaniel is an untreated schizophrenic with voices in his head telling him a number of scary things.

This part of the movie was unsettling to watch. The scenes where Nathaniel is hearing these voices are so real that you can feel his confusion. It is probably my least favorite part about the movie, but only because of how unsettling it is.

Downey also shines in the movie. His Steve Lopez is sarcastic, standoffish and full of quick-witted, dry one-liners. Yet, in spite of his general lack of compassion, it is easy to see that he, too, is drawn in by Nathaniel.

His reluctance and fear of entering such a volatile relationship are relatable and in the end, the man who could simply have been described as a jerk just looking for a story ends up becoming a true friend and advocate for the homeless.

Other notable characters include: Nelsan Ellis as the straight-talking director of Lamp, a Skid Row community for the homeless; Catherine Keener as Lopez’s boss and ex-wife; and many of the homeless Lamp residents who provide so much humor.

There are very little drawbacks to “The Soloist,” other than a few parts where the plot drags a bit, but these are few and far between. For the most part, the viewer is drawn, like Lopez, into the complexity that is Nathaniel Ayers.

There is no simple ending for “The Soloist.” The plot is not tied up with a neat bow, because nothing in life is. The end result is a film that is both real and heartwarming – a strange and extraordinary combination.

Contact all correspondent Meghan Bogardus

at [email protected]