Magazine article The Spectator

Keeping It Real

Magazine article The Spectator

Keeping It Real

Article excerpt

The Soloist

12A, Nationwide

The Soloist is 'based on a true story' and the book by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez entitled: The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, which is exactly the sort of thing I'd race past in Waterstones.

(Well, dawdle past, but while picking up my speed a bit; I'm not really a racer. ) I didn't have high hopes for the film either. With a book title like that, why would I? Oh boy, I even thought, it's going to be one of those uplifting friendship movies accompanied by emancipating, emotionally soaring music and you know what? I would have been totally, 100 per cent spot-on (as usual! ) if only I hadn't been so entirely wrong. The Soloist is a fantastically decent, serious, intelligent and moving film about what most would refer to as 'mental illness', but may well just be a different way of being. And this distinction is rather the film's point. Anyway, it all just goes to show, I suppose, that you can't tell a book by its cover unless it has 'Dan Brown' on it, in which case you probably can.

Now, down to business. Directed by Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) this stars Robert Downey Jr as Mr Lopez, one of those journalists who, on dead days, shows us all up by actually going out to find stories rather than staying put and doing an Ocado shop. He is quite creepy in this way. So, out searching one day, he stumbles across Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a homeless guy with all his belongings piled up in a shopping trolley and dressed in layer upon layer of clothes that aren't really clothes; just remnants of clothes. Cue violins? Just the one. Nathaniel is playing a battered, two-stringed violin yet is getting some strangely beautiful and affecting music out of it. Nathaniel, it turns out, is obsessed by Beethoven. Steve's curiosity is piqued.

'Hey, ' he thinks, 'I could get a column out of this.' ('Hey, ' I'd have thought, 'I hope I remembered to order cat food.') Steve eventually discovers that Nathaniel was an exceptionally gifted cellist who once studied at the famous Juilliard School in New York but suffered a mental breakdown and had to drop out. Nathaniel is schizophrenic - the raging voices in his head, as shown via flashbacks, meant he could not perform in an orchestra - but not Hollywood schizophrenic as in, say, Jim Carrey's Me, Myself & Irene which, surely, marked a new and profoundly dispiriting low in portraying this sort of thing on screen. …

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