Friends make beautiful music

In journalism there is an idea that every person is a good story waiting to be told. “The Soloist” is based on the true story of how one journalist used this idea to change not just his life, but that of a forgotten soul. “The Soloist” stars Robert Downey Jr.

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By Timothy Guy and Stephanie Holland

True story (Paramount Pictures)

By Timothy Guy and Stephanie Holland

In journalism there is an idea that every person is a good story waiting to be told.

“The Soloist” is based on the true story of how one journalist used this idea to change not just his life, but that of a forgotten soul.

“The Soloist” stars Robert Downey Jr. as Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez who seems to be stuck in a rut.

His marriage failed, he doesn’t really speak to his son in college and he’s reduced himself to writing a column about a recent biking accident.

It is by fate and simple journalistic curiosity that he meets Nathaniel Ayers Jr., a homeless man playing wonderful music with a broken, two-stringed violin.

At first Lopez seems disinterested. When Ayers starts talking, it is an endless flow of nonsensical words strung together.

A couple of those words then peak the interest of Lopez-Ayers said he went to Julliard.

That is what starts the movie, not an altruistic notion of helping this man, but his idea that this would make a great story.

The more he writes about him the more he becomes a part of Ayers life. He ventures into Skid Row, even spending the night with Ayers on the street.

The average person wouldn’t be caught dead even going near Skid Row. Some people either avoid it completely or roll up their car windows when they see the homeless.

This is where the film takes a turn. Who is really being helped here? Is it Ayers, who is receiving attention for his music after years of schizophrenic exile or Lopez who finds a purpose and finally realizes what really matters in life?

The film is directed by Joe Wright, who is known for period pieces like “Pride and Prejudice.” In a recent conference call with reporters, Wright said he considers “The Soloist” a period piece.

It is based in 2005, when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa started his “Safer City Initiative,” which many saw as criminalizing homelessness.

The film is a stunning sight to see. It is beautifully shot and makes the most of what Los Angeles has to offer.

Even when the action turns to Skid Row, the film still keeps a beauty to it, albeit a realistic, abrasive beauty.

It is realistic in the sense that Wright tried to show the audience what Ayers life on the street really looked like, not like some glossy Hollywood version of homelessness. Real homeless people were used as extras.

Wright felt that he had no right to speak for the homeless and they, as extras, could speak for themselves and not only get paid, but have a sense of achievement.

“By far it was my favorite element of making the film,” he said.

Wright also sees the eventual friendship of the two men as the main part of the film with other major themes surrounding it, giving the friendship a deeper meaning.

“The friendship is the most emotional part of the story,” he said. “You want to give the film an emotional core which carries the audience through. Onto that you can surround it with other themes like mental illness, homelessness and the demise of print journalism.”

The film also delves into deep symbolism. When Lopez presents Ayers with a donated cello and he begins to play, two birds fly into the air and soar over Los Angeles.

It echoes the fact that the music is setting both men free; for Ayers it’s a way to silence the voices in his head and live as a musical prodigy and for Lopez it’s a distraction from his mundane life.

The only downside to the film is the length. At about one hour and 50 minutes it seems to be a little long. Film critic Roger Ebert once said that if you have to look at your watch during the film, it’s too long.

There were plenty of scenes that could have been cutback and other scenes that could have been completely removed from the film to make it shorter.

This is not to take away from the film at all. It is a wonderful look at the good journalism can do and how taking the time to listen to a voice that most people ignore can change lives.

The film ends with saying that there are approximately 90,000 homeless people in Los Angeles.

If you think about it, those are 90,000 people with stories to tell and perhaps 90,000 ways to change the world.

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