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It has been said that there is a very fine line between genius and madness. There may be at least a grain of truth in this saying; those possessing a gift of intellect or some talent view the world in a way so unlike the majority of people that they may cross over to the realm of insanity. This dichotomy if, handled correctly, can make for an emotionally powerful story. It is not uncommon for the basis of this type of story to come from real life that is as much as any movie claiming ‘based on a true story’ can be. One of the most recent examples of this kind of film is ‘Soloist’. It has all the required elements for a poignant, emotional film; acting, script and direction, but somehow just manages to miss it goals as a movie, this is not to say that it is a bad film, it actually is quite good. It is just that this movie had potential for greatness that just couldn’t manifest. At times the story seems too calculated to tug on your heart string so that some of the innate emotional punch is diffused losing its effectiveness. The fact is, the life story of the msn portrayed here, Nathaniel Ayers, is so incredibly moving on its own merit that the over emphasis employed here simply comes across as melodramatic instead of sincere. The cast and crew give an honest effort but miss gelling properly. Overall, the film is saved by some excellent performances and strong direction. The film could have done better in the box office; apparently it only made back about half of the $60 million with the domestic theatrical run but considering the A-list leading men it should do better in the home theater release. This release is in DVD and Blu-ray through Dreamwork and Paramount Pictures. It is well worth taking a chance on this one.

The script was prepared by Susannah Grant based on the book by Steve Lopez. The story centers on Nathaniel Ayers, was a child protégé gifted in all of the stringed instruments. He was first introduced to the double bass while in grade school taking to it so naturally that he received a scholarship to The Juilliard School in New York where he was also one of the few African Americans in attendance. He would expand his talents to encompass violin and cello. During his second year at school he suffered an emotional breakdown; was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and committed to an institution. There he was subjected to various forms of treatment including electroshock without positive results. Eventually Ayers wound up in Los Angles looking for family but winding up homeless on the streets. He eked out a very meager existence playing a broken down violin and cello for spare change.

In 2005 Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez ran across Ayers in a small city park and where he was moved by the sheer beauty of his playing. He began to look into Ayers’ background discovering his attendance at Juilliard and subsequent breakdown. What followed was a series of articles detailing Ayers becoming homeless. Soon a book was written, ‘The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music’ that followed Lopez helping Ayers regain his place in the musical community. Currently a foundation in Ayers’ name is providing assistance to talented musicians afflicted with psychological or emotional disorders.

Susannah Grant is an award winning writer and director who has an extremely diversified resume with her screenplays. She received acclaim that included an Oscar nod for ‘Erin Brockovich’. Showing her ability with family faire she penned ‘Pocahontas’ and ‘Charlotte's Web’ and romantic comedy with ’28 Days’ and ‘Catch and Release’. The story here is emotional enough on its own but Grant pushes too hard to illicit a reaction from the audience. Some of the details concerning Ayers descent into his disease come across more like a male version of a ‘Lifetime’ flick losing the natural gravitas inherent in the situation. Grant stuck close to the format of a newspaper article give the audience the facts but not enough to invest in emotionally. Perhaps it would have been better fir her to coax the emotions from the audience instead of manufacturing them.

Posted 07/27/09

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