Ever looked at a homeless person and wonder about that person's backstory? What happened to make him lose his way? That's the basic idea behind The Soloist, a reality-based film that starts reasonably well but gradually loses its own way.
Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) is homeless, schizophrenic and enormously talented. He's a wizard with any musical instrument he picks up, especially the cello. L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) meets him on the street and is immediately drawn to his proficiency on the violin, even though it's missing a couple of strings. Ignoring the fact that Ayers is missing a couple of strings himself (he babbles incoherently and pushes a large shopping cart full of junk), Lopez starts writing a column about him and gradually tries to "civilize" him by getting him a room to live in and maybe start taking some medication. But as any idiot knows, you can't civilize people who don't want to be civilized. At first Ayers looks upon his new friend as a kind of God, but when Lopez tries to make too many personal changes in his life, disaster strikes.
The Soloist tries to show us what it's like inside the mind of a schizophrenic (they hear lots of spooky, echoey voices) and, in one interminable sequence, we're even shown what classical music must "look" like inside Ayers' head. (Joan, my constant movie companion, swears it's the screen saver built into Widows Media Player). The best thing about The Soloist is the acting of Robert Downey Jr., who is electrifying in virtually everything he's in; he can be funny and charming and dramatic all at the same time. Unfortunately, the film is excruciatingly long, with more than a couple of dull passages that fail to move the narrative forward. Ultimately, the movie's message seems to be that it's extremely noble to try to help the homeless—providing they possess some otherworldly talent. Otherwise, screw 'em. Rating: 2/5.