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Review: 'The Soloist'

Based on the true story of a journalist who befriends a schizophrenic homeless man with a prodigious musical talent, movie doesn't resonate as deeply as it should.

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If "The Soloist" had a subtitle, it could well be "My Brother's Keeper." Based on a true story, it's about what happens when Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.), a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, writes about Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a schizophrenic homeless man who, he discovers, was once a cello prodigy at Juilliard.

Lopez knows a good story when he sees one, but his involvement with Ayers is fraught with moral and ethical minefields. He tries to get him off the streets; he provides him with a cello to play, a safe place to store it, and a place to practice. He tries, unsuccessfully, and in the face of great resistance, to have Ayers put on psychotropic medications. All the while, Ayers, who favors sequined jackets and plastered-down hairdos, regards Lopez as something of an angel of mercy – his hero. And Lopez knows full well that, in Ayers's fraught mental condition, a hero can easily be downgraded to enemy at the slightest provocation.

In 2000, Lopez worked his columns on Ayers, which had already attracted the attention of Hollywood, into a bestselling book. It contains all the ingredients for an uplifting Oscar-ish anthem, and yet, despite remarkable performances from the two leads, the resulting film fails to rouse. Maybe it's because the director Joe Wright, and his screenwriter Susannah Grant, are trying to do too many different things, most of which are at cross-purposes.

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