Robert Downey Jr. is like Midas — everything he touches turns to gold. Would it be too much to say he’s our greatest living actor? Perhaps. But the truth is, mediocre movies often become masterpieces with him in the starring role.
Such is the case with The Soloist, which could have been a cliché tearjerker about a white guy who helps a homeless black dude through the power of music. But Downey Jr. (Iron Man), elevates the material and everyone around him in this gripping, emotional tale, based on a true story. Bring a box of Kleenex. You will cry about ten times, unless you’re like Miss California or something and have ice water running through your veins.
Downey Jr., plays Steve Lopez, one of those cynical LA Times columnist who’s seen it all. But one day, while walking through the city’s Skid Row, he meets Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a bedraggled bum who’s pouring his soul into a two-stringed violin. Fascinated with his new subject, Lopez does some digging and finds out Nathaniel was once a prodigy, who attended Julliard, but dropped out after having a breakdown. He starts writing passionate columns about Nathaniel, and his readers flood his In Box with emails — and even a new cello. Lopez tries to help Nathaniel get his life together but, of course, Nathaniel ends up helping Lopez, too.
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Downey, Jr., brilliantly conveys his character’s dilemma — Lopez loves winning awards for his articles on Nathaniel but is he just using him? Or can he truly make the commitment to being his life-long friend? And Foxx, who could have gone the scenery-chewing route, is spectacular. In a subtle, moving performance, he nails the meteoric highs and lows of Nathaniel’s schizophrenia.
Ultimately, The Soloist is a story about inspiration, true friendship and humanity. It shows that when we are aware hellish places like Skid Row exist, we have a moral obligation to do something about it. And not treat the lonely, broken people who live there like they don’t matter anymore.