THE SOLOIST (2009)




By: Irvindya D Irawan 04120100020

The Soloist is a movie that was released in 2009, directed by a critically acclaimed director Joe Wright and stars some big time movie stars such as Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. This movie discloses a story about Steve Lopez, an L.A Times columnist who whilst looking for story ideas found an inspiration in a homeless and schizophrenic musician whom he later found out to be a former Julliard attendee. The screenplay, written by Susannah Grant, is based on a true story from a book by the title ‘The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive power of music’ that was written by Steve Lopez himself

The movie, that is set in the year 2005, opened with Steve Lopez, portrayed by the ever-charming Robert Downey Jr. who is a divorced man in his 40s and works for his ex-wife at the L.A Times as a columnist. At the start of the movie, Steve was involved in a biking accident that severely damaged the right side of his face. After his accident, Steve, who is a prominent columnist at the popular publication, finds himself in a block in which he can’t manage to find good stories to write about, until one day he randomly hears a violin being played so beautifully. Steve was intrigued with where the sound came from, and that is the moment where he discovers Nathaniel Ayers (portrayed by Jamie Foxx), who is a majorly gifted musician with schizophrenia, who because of his mental illness has forced him to drop out of Julliard on his sophomore year and give up on his life-long dream on becoming a famed musician.

After hearing bits and pieces of his story, Steve Lopez becomes more and more intrigued. He then decides to do a series of articles in his column at the L.A Times about Nathaniel’s life journey. He has done that with the initial purpose of helping Nathaniel have a better life. Steve puts out his best efforts as a journalist to find out more and more things about Nathaniel’s life that he can write about. He searches for the things that Nathaniel has briefly mentioned in their conversations (because Nathaniel were never able to fully tell his whole story) such as being a student at Julliard, his family, and so on. Steve started his investigations by calling up Julliard to verify whether or not Nathaniel was really a student at Julliard, because he could not believe that someone who is as gifted a musician as Nathaniel-- and on top of that went to a prestigious art school like Julliard-- can end up being a homeless street musician with a barely working instrument. After calling up Julliard, he finds out that Nathaniel indeed went to the school, but dropped out on his second year there. From then Steve was even more determined to find out what had happened in Nathaniel’s life that as led him to how his life is now. Steve even managed to track down Steve’s sister to tell him about Nathaniel’s childhood. His sister tells Steve that it was clear since he was very young, that Nathaniel has a God-given gift when it comes to playing music. His favorite instrument was the cello, and his sister said that when he was young he would not stop playing cello all day long. After writing a few articles about Nathaniel, Steve started to get more response from his readers to finds Nathaniel’s story to be touching. One reader even sends Steve her old cello for him to give to Nathaniel so he can play on a real and working instrument. Steve then proceeds to bring the cello to Nathaniel who is highly appreciative of the gift, but would only agree to let Nathaniel play it at the LAMP homeless shelter, with hopes that Nathaniel would agree to live at the homeless shelter too instead of living under a tunnel. Steve left Nathaniel with the cello to go to the homeless shelter hoping that Nathaniel would follow him there. After arriving at the homeless shelter, that is located at a bad neighborhood, Steve waited around in there for hours hoping that Nathaniel would show up. Steve even squeezed in a few interviews with interesting characters that lived at the homeless shelter. When Nathaniel didn’t show up at the homeless shelter, Steve starts to think that his story of Nathaniel is done. As he was about to give up, someone gave him a call about Nathaniel playing his cello at the homeless shelter. From that point on, Steve has dedicated all his time to not only find out more things about Nathaniel to write about in his columns, he also feels the responsibility to help Nathaniel get out of homelessness. He goes above and beyond- from finding him a small one-bedroom apartment for Nathaniel to live in, to finding him a cello tutor to help him play better. His entire act of kindness has made Nathaniel increasingly attached to him. When Steve realizes that Nathaniel’s situation is way more complicated than what he had initially comprehended, he began to take some space from Nathaniel, much to Nathaniel’s dismay. By the end of the movie, Steve discovers a realization that his initial purpose of writing about Nathaniel to help him have a better life has not only changed Nathaniel’s life, but his own life also. Steve, who is estranged from his wife and son, comes to the understanding that in the past few years of his life he has been a disappointing father and husband. His ex-wife also made him realize that with Nathaniel, Steve cannot completely change his life because he has an illness that Steve can do nothing about, but he can try and be the best friend that Nathaniel has ever had. Therefore, that’s exactly what Steve has committed to do for Nathaniel, even until years later.

This movie tells an incredibly inspiring story about someone who intends to help someone else through his profession as a journalist. In this movie, Steve Lopez really uses his powers and abilities as a journalist to tell a story about someone who has been dismissed by his own world to bring the story up to the surface so that it can create more awareness for a larger audience. Not only is this movie’s purpose is to tell the inspiring story of Nathaniel Ayers, it also touches a lot on the subject of homelessness that exists in the city of Los Angeles, because it is quite possible, even for someone who lives in Los Angeles and not be aware of what is happening on the other side of the city. In my opinion, this movie has done a good job on shedding a light on a subject that might otherwise be ignored.

As this movie is based on a true story, some slight adjustments had been made when transferring the book into the screenplay to increase the value of the movie, and/or entertainment purposes. For instance, Steve Lopez who is happily married with kids in real life is turned into a divorced middle-aged man who is estranged from his family. The idea is probably to add a dramatic aspect to Steve’s personal life to create a well-rounded story, by turning his wife into someone that he is estranged with but still within his reach. His ex-wife Mary, portrayed by Catherine Keener, is someone who is also a loner, much like how Steve Lopez is in the movie, to then obviously conclude with both of them learning something from the experience and inspiration that Nathaniel Ayers has brought into their lives. Other than that, Nathaniel is portrayed as a cello player in the movie, when in real life he is a bass player, although plays other instruments also.

Being set in Los Angeles, this movie touches a lot on the role that journalism plays in enhancing a large audience’s awareness about certain causes. This has a lot to do with how the US’s press system, the Social Responsibility theory has allowed journalists to cover something that can not only inspire a large amount of people, but can also educate them on certain issues that might otherwise be overlooked.


Resources:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0821642/
http://web.mac.com/moviecritic1/Site/Soloist.html
http://www.soloistmovie.com/journalist-steve-lopez.html
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-me-lopez-skidrow-nathaniel-series,0,290300.special
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/soloist/reviews/?type=top_critics