The Soloist

Critics Consensus

Though it features strong performances by its lead players, a lack of narrative focus prevents The Soloist from hitting its mark.



Total Count: 205


Audience Score

User Ratings: 263,334
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Movie Info

Columnist Steve Lopez is at a dead end. The newspaper business is in an uproar, his marriage to a fellow journalist has fallen apart and he can't entirely remember what he loved about his job in the first place. Then, one day, while walking through Los Angeles' Skid Row, he sees the mysterious bedraggled figure Nathaniel Ayers, pouring his soul into a two-stringed violin. At first, Lopez approaches Ayers as just another story idea in a city of millions. But as he begins to unearth the mystery of how this alternately brilliant and distracted street musician, once a dynamic prodigy headed for fame, wound up living in tunnels and doorways, it sparks an unexpected quest. Imagining he can change Ayers' life, Lopez embarks on a quixotic mission to get him off the streets and back to the world of music. But even as he fights to save Ayers' life, he begins to see that it is Ayers--with his unsinkable passion, his freedom-loving obstinacy and his valiant attempts at connection and love--who is profoundly changing Lopez.

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Jamie Foxx
as Nathaniel Anthony Ayers
Robert Downey Jr.
as Steve Lopez
Tom Hollander
as Graham Claydon
Catherine Keener
as Mary Weston
Lisa Gay Hamilton
as Jennifer Ayers-Moore
Stephen Root
as Curt Reynolds
Nelsan Ellis
as David Carter
Jena Malone
as Lab Technician
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Critic Reviews for The Soloist

All Critics (205) | Top Critics (51) | Fresh (116) | Rotten (89)

  • A deliriously imperfect film - and all the better for it.

    Sep 25, 2009 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Dave Calhoun

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Ultimately, the reason that The Soloist fails is because the writer and the director have been bamboozled by the seriousness of the subject matter.

    Sep 25, 2009 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

    Toby Young

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • A handsomely made but tonally uncertain film; it's unsure whether to be an old-fashioned inspirational heartwarmer, or a paranoid prose-poem about ruined lives on the city's dangerous margins.

    Sep 25, 2009 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…
  • Wright's major mistake is the flashback to Nathaniel's background. Mundane, TV movie simplistic and, ironically, very middle-class patronising, it causes the film's trajectory to go limp.

    Sep 25, 2009
  • What's altogether surprising is its refusal to romanticise either of its troubled or flawed central characters.

    Sep 3, 2009 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • In the hands of a director more suited to the material The Soloist might have been a deeply moving experience. Here, we know something important is being played out before us, and there are times when it hits home with force. But in their exercise of dram

    Jun 13, 2009 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Soloist

  • Feb 03, 2015
    Awful. Starts off really well but then after 45 minutes just gets psychedlic and weird. Once this film finally stops tripping balls, it begins to suck even worse. It becomes so horribly boring that you can't wait for it to end. This film is a damn could've been so good, but it ends up being just another shitty movie.
    Stephen S Super Reviewer
  • Jul 31, 2013
    This American drama directed by Joe Wright, and starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. was something different. The screenplay written by Susannah Grant is based on the book, The Soloist by Steve Lopez and it is based on the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a musician who developed schizophrenia and became homeless. Perfect casting, I have to say: Foxx portrays Ayers, who is considered a cello prodigy, and Downey portrays Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist who discovers Ayers and writes about him in the newspaper. Their performances were as good as possible with an unevenly developed and presented screenplay and similar directing! Emotionally, the movie feels pretty dry, and even when we witness the extraordinary events on the screen, we are feeling left out. It seems that director Wright is not very experience in manipulating the audience using the Hollywood techniques, and this is what we get. The film itself is pretty tidy, but sometimes, even with all the homeless people in it, feels too clean and sterilised! Still, it is worth watching it for the acting performances.
    Panta O Super Reviewer
  • Mar 21, 2013
    Considering who is involved, this should have had more of an impact and possibly been considered for an Oscar nomination. Instead we have something mediocre on continual play on movie networks looking for cheap material. Downey and Foxx are wasted.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 04, 2012
    It's an American/French/British drama directed by Joe Wright and featuring Robert Downey, Jr. It sounds like the only thing keeping this film from being one of the whitest of 2009 is the fact that the black primary focus isn't played by Denzel Washington. Quite frankly, I'm surprised Nathaniel Ayers isn't portrayed by someone like Washington, because when they make a biopic about a not-so good-looking person, they tend to get a good-looking lead actor, and yet, this film only goes as far as Jamie Foxx, and that's not far. No, Foxx isn't the worst-looking dude in film, but he's definately got that kind of crazy look to pull homeless schizophrenic, and plus, if you have a biopic about a black musical prodigy with some kind of disability, then Foxx is your man. Granted, he's only played Ray Charles and this one guy I had never heard of until this film, but I like to think that good old fashion music is a big part of his career, not just because he plays these old fashion musicians so well, but because his real music is absolutely terrible, and when it comes to really good actors doing terrible non-acting work, I feel a bit betrayed, or at least just fall into denial. Huh, I just got this strange feeling that Jared Leto actually went through with his musical career, which is of course ridiculous. Well, with my figuring out a way to connect this film to Jared Leto, I think that I helped push this film up a few notches closer to one of the whitest films of 2009, though it's a shame I couldn't help this film in fulfilling its promising potential, for although this film is still an enjoyable one, it's not without more than a few faulty notes. If there is a conventional note in this story and subject matter to hit, you better believe that this film hits those notes hard, maybe not so hard that they land all that penetrating of a blow to the film's effectiveness, but definately hard enough, and consistently enough, to taint this worthy story with relentless story stereotypes, or rather, storyotypes, and by extension, considerable predictability. It may be easy for this story to descend into genericism, yet it still deserves better, as it is a story that's too worthy to be structured as conventionally as it is, and yet, really, genericism is quite possibly the least that this film has to worry about when it comes to executing the worthy story. Joe Wright has never been one to tell a story all that excitingly or concisely, and with this film, that means immense detriment, as the film limps along quietly and for much too long, going padded by much expendable material that renders the film heavy-handed in its storytelling. The film drags on excessively, with not enough spark or tightness in Joe Wright's storytelling to sew things together all that comfortably, and believe me, the last thing this film's structure needs to be is inorganic in flow. The film's narrative is quite layered, and really, that could have worked wonders were there more tightness and inspiration in the storytelling, yet as things stand, Wright often fails to execute the film's elaborate structure comfortably and evenly, having the film limp along its points with little organic flow, and after a while, the narrative just plain loses focus entirely, and it doesn't take too much longer for you to also start losing focus here and here. Again, the film boasts promising potential, and lord knows that you can feel that ambition in Wright's direction all throughout the film, yet the problem is that ambition is among the few things that can be consistently felt in Wright's direction, for although there are more than enough high points in this film to make it generally worth watching, the potential of the story goes hurt by genericism, and goes all but demolished by Wright's awkwardly heavy-handed, uneven and altogether unfocused direction. Still, note my statement that there are more than enough high points in this film to make it generally worth watching, and while this film deserves to be handled better than it is, it still keeps you engaged and enjoying yourself with some pretty remarkable high notes, as well as some consistent strengths. If nothing else, Joe Wright is a remarkable director of artistry, and in his second time collaborating with Wright, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey further proves that he has the skill to meet Wright's tastes, decidedly not quite delivering on the stunning lighting that he drenched "Atonement" in, but still delivering on consistently handsome color and crisp detail that rarely, if ever fails to catch your eye, while a couple of unique camera staging concepts compliment the handsomeness of McGarvey's photography. Wright plays with this photography in a fashion that is distinctly Joe Wright, and by extension, distinctly attractive, which isn't to say that Wright's fine style ends with the photography, as Wright also knows how to work technical value in a way that really does go far. Lord knows that editor Paul Tothill could have tightened things up as far as story structure is concerned, yet when it comes to slick cuts, you better believe that those cuts are slick and neatly flare up the film's style on occasions, while the film's sound design, on a few occasions, works more wonders than you would expect, as it manages to draw so much audible grace and depth from the atmosphere in a mostly immersive and sometimes brilliantly unique way, especially during such rare golden moments as a sequences in which music is played, at which point, the sounds of the environment are married with the music and played with ever so cleverly to supplement the film's tone with such profoundness that, for a moment, you'd be hard pressed to not find your breath taken away. Certainly, the technical team deserves immense credit for its talent, yet the way Wright marries various forms of artistry into a single stylistic vision, even here, is not only marvelous, but breathes life into the substance, which isn't to say that Wright's actual storytelling doesn't help, for although his flawed storytelling methods are at their worst with this film, so much so that it renders the final product generally underwhelming, there are points - from moments in which Nathaniel Ayers' schizophrenia gets too intense to handle, to such particularly heartbreaking sequences as a tracking shot through the struggles of the homeless community, set to a prayer delivered, via voice-over, by Ayers - where Wright finally gets a grip on the situation and strikes deep, whether it be through his affecting stylish methods or atmosphere manipulation, while the people who keep you consistently invested, to a certain degree, no matter how low this film falls or how high it reaches, are, of course, our leads. Along the way, I really have started to notice that Robert Downey, Jr. all too often plays Robert Downey, Jr., and quite frankly, well, I don't really care that much, because it's a really good character who Downey, one of today's great actors, always plays well, and here, there is no exception, as he consistent delivers on his iconic striking charisma - made all the sharper by some fine dialogue that he delivers faithfully fine -, broken up by moments of subtle emotional range that define his Steve Lopez character and make him a compelling co-lead. Still, where Downey is not given enough to do to really knock your socks off, Jamie Foxx is incredible and owns every scene that focuses upon him, as he captures the disturbance and severe schizophrenia, as well as the brilliance and good-heartedness of Nathaniel Ayers with such striking believability that he disappears into his role, and when he spices things up with powerful emotional range and immense charm, the result is an outstanding lead performance, with authenticity, depth and poignance that makes him so intensely engrossing and stands among this film's many great strengths, none of which are quite enough for this film to transcend past its many shortcomings, but still bring this film close enough to genuinely good to keep you engaged through and through, regardless of this film's faultiness. In the end, the film's worthy story goes tainted by many a collapse into genericism, until after a while, the film is rendered predictable, while what taints the film the most is its being just so slow and excessively padded with messily incorporated and messily handled material that renders the film inorganic and, considering how often uninspired Joe Wright is in assembling the story structure, rather unfocused, thus making for an underwhelming film, yet still one worth watching, as it boasts a handsome visual style that, when married by Wright's style direction with the razor-sharp and sometimes brilliantly well-manipulated technical aspects, supplements the film's tone and, to a certain extent, engagement value, made all the stronger by some golden occasions in Wright's storytelling, as well as consistent sharpness in Robert Downey, Jr.'s and Jamie Foxx's lead performances, with Foxx especially standing out with his authentic, emotionally intense and all around engrossing performances that stands among the reasons why "The Soloist" ultimately stands as a generally enjoyable and, at times, rather moving drama, too recognizable and messy to fully reward though, it may be. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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