What is it about the cello that it always sounds emotionally ambivalent, like it’s trying to tell a love story without glossing over its doom or a hopelessly bleak tragedy with the most impossible of optimism! This emotional ambivalence, whether decidedly or not, translates onto the screen in The Soloist, Joe Wright’s film adaptation of Steve Lopez’s non-fictional account of his relationship with a homeless musical prodigy.Steve Lopez, as a columnist for Los Angeles Times, encountered Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless schizophrenic, playing Beethoven on a two-stringed violin in the streets of LA. Ayers was the perfect subject for Lopez whose position at the LA Times was in serious doubt at the time. Lopez wrote a series of columns on Ayers, which he later expanded into a book that this film is based on.
The film is true to the book, but is also guilty of dramatizing certain details to make the narrative ‘cinematic’. The actual relationship between Ayers and Lopez grew stronger over time with Lopez trying to get Ayers into a medical institution and off the streets, but the film has Ayers looking at Lopez as a personal God! Moreover, the film dodges the erratic and violent moods of Ayers. When the film does decide to stay true to its gritty text, it errs by doing so in the climax. All audiences expect catharsis, especially so in a tale of human will and determination triumphing over destiny’s raw deal. The Soloist ends matter-of-factly, leaving you feeling…well, leaving you without any feeling at all!
Downey Jr. and Foxx lend immense gravitas to their portrayals of Lopez and Ayers respectively, the latter evidently in best form since his Oscar winning turn in Ray. The duo make the film work, both investing their roles with enough sincerity to make us care about them. Downey Jr. especially brings to the table a weariness to his Lopez that justifies the survivalist traits of his character. Downey Jr. is unhesitant to portray Lopez’s initial embracing of Ayers as a purely selfish motive, allowing us to connect with Lopez only little by little.See it then only for the stunning duet of Downey Jr. and Foxx. Despite their pitch-prefect performances though, The Soloist simply doesn’t work on an emotional level.