Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Movies rarely live up to or deserve the hype: Reviews of The Soloist and State of Play

I've been wanting to see The Soloist since I found out Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx would be staring. However, I'd barely noticed the appearance (and disappearance) of State of Play until it was recommended on my Netflix queue. I was sadly disappointed by The Soloist and very pleasantly surprised by State of Play.

The Soloist is based on a true story about LA Times columnist Steve Lopez (Downey), who would write about all kinds of issues, shining light on issues around LA. One day he's looking for a topic for his next column and meets Nathaniel Anthony Ayers (Foxx) playing a two-string violin and rambling about his love for Beethoven. He writes a column about Ayers, which starts an uneven, often dangerous friendship. One of Lopez' readers, upon reading about his former excellence as a cellist at Julliard, donates a cello for Ayers. However, Ayers is homeless, and owning something as valuable as a cello on the streets of LA could get him killed, so Lopez arranges for the cello to be kept at the LA homeless center (LAMP). Lopez continues to attempt to restore some of Ayers' talent and sanity by getting him housing, and exposing him to concerts in the city. However, the movies doesn't want to be a story of redemption, and there's no happy ending, or even a very good ending. The director, Joe Wright, also directed Atonement, which I loved, and his style permeates both films. While Atonement's story could benefit from a more artistic style of movie making - long takes of the beach at Dunkirk, swirling floods of the tube station, bombings with music in the background, the snap of the typewriter as music - The Soloist, while a story about a musician, does not. The story is slow, with very little character development. Somehow, it's supposed to be enough that Ayers is schizophrenic and homeless and Lopez is a wry columnist, and thus we know everything we need to know about them. While I LOVE Robert Downey, Jr. he was the only reason I even watched it to the end. 2 lambs/stars
This movie did not live up to the hopeful hype surrounding it.

In contrast, I hadn't heard much hype, good or bad, about State of Play, except that Ben Affleck was in a political thriller and he played a congressman. For the past few years, Affleck's movies haven't always been received very well (though his directorial effort, Gone Baby Gone, is a masterpiece). State of Play really stars Russell Crowe as a Washington Globe reporter, seeking a story about two murders in downtown DC. His old-school reporting style is in conflict with his fellow reporter, Rachel McAdams, online blogging style, but he needs another reporter to help him when he finds the story connects to the recent death of Congressman Collins' (Affleck) aide on a subway platform. Crowe's reporter and Affleck's congressman were college roommates. High political drama ensues with corruption, congressional hearings on private military contractors, affairs, marital intrigue, murder, and high-pressure reporting. Helen Mirren plays Crowe's editor, Robin Wright plays Affleck's put upon wife. It's a great film to see on your comfy couch as it does take a little while to build up the story, but once it gets going, it also helps to have someone to watch with, so you can confirm what you think has been going on, and what the big twist at the end really means. Crowe does a terrific job trying to maintain his integrity getting at the truth without destroying his friend's career, and McAdams does his precocious assistant perfectly. 4 of 5 lambs/stars


Buttercup said...

I pretty much knew "The Soloist" wasn't for me, but hadn't thought of "State of Play." Think that one may be just right for me, especially on a dreary Sunday afternoon.

Jess said...

Yes, it's perfect for a dreary Sunday afternoon. You'd like it. Russell Crowe is pretty cute.