Wright’s film is badly in need of being held together, because it wanders all over the map with peculiar notions of dramatic necessity. Why, for example, does the film find it necessary to invent marital strife between Lopez and his wife (Catherine Keener)? What function does this serve? What’s the point in inserting a running gag involving Lopez’s ongoing battle with raccoons in his yard? It’s mildly amusing watching Downey tussle with a bag of raccoon-repellent coyote urine, but what it has to do with the story escapes me.
The central problem with the film is addressed in the movie itself when Lopez says he doesn’t want to make a book out of his articles concerning Ayers because it’s a story without an ending. That’s the film’s difficulty, too. It has nowhere it can really go. Ayers isn’t going to magically get better and play Carnegie Hall (or Disney Hall, to keep with the film) for a big finale, so instead the movie merely wanders around—touching on more problems than it can digest or effectively address—until a sufficient running time has been reached. The film eventually wraps things up in a simplistic bit of wisdom from Lopez’s wife and pretty much just stops, followed by a tepid shot at a “feel-good” tag scene.
Yes, the performances are good. And yes, Wright’s direction is often assured and creative, though his attempts to show how music has the ability to transport Ayers out of his shadow world are a very mixed bag. The use of soaring pigeons isn’t bad. There’s also a thrilling tracking shot on Ayers as he listens to Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, but what’s the payoff for that shot? Something that seems like an eternity of trippy-colored lights—an effect my Windows Media Player pulls off more impressively. And no, seeing it 30-odd feet wide doesn’t enhance its essential computer-gimmick lameness. In the end, it’s that sense of lameness that colors this whole mishmash of a movie. Wright has since proven himself to be one of the movies’ great stylists — something you might have expected from Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), but there’s little sign of it in this curious mis-step.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Soloist Sunday, March 8, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.