When I saw the title for this movie my immediate thoughts went to that old Neil Diamond song of the same name. I don’t know why, but I absolutely expected to hear it at some point in the film. So I actually found myself smiling a bit when the first guitar chords for the song began during the opening credits. I was a little disappointed to hear the song, but performed by the Man In Black, Johnny Cash. Not that I dislike Johnny. I just was expected something else. You know the feeling. Did you ever pick up someone else’s drink by mistake and sip it, expecting it to be yours? It doesn’t matter how much you might actually like what that someone was drinking. It completely throws you and tastes bad for a split second. Well, that’s what happened with Solitary Man, the song and the film.
You see, the box art and studio buzz calls this film a sophisticated comedy. It’s neither. It’s actually quite good for what it is, but the studio’s misrepresentation means that I was ready for something entirely different than what I got. That makes it so much harder to give a film a chance. I was all set to laugh. Instead I got a very moody and often dark character study. It took me a bit of a readjustment to finally begin to appreciate the movie for what it was. Michael Douglas can still deliver a solid character study. Here he takes a character that’s almost impossible to like, and makes you enjoy it all the way.
Ben Kalmen (Douglas) is not an easy man to like. He’s a car salesman who reminds all of us why those stereotypes exist. He’s everything we expect: slick, sleazy, and egotistical. Even as his doctor is trying to warn him about a bad heart test, he’s trying to line him up to buy a car. We’re told that he has lost his lucrative dealership because he committed some fraud that left him paying heavy fines and out in the cold. It’s pretty bad when used car salesmen don’t want to be seen with you because of what it might do for their reputations. But Kalmen is actually on the way back up. He’s dating Jordan (Parker) because of her father’s great connections. He’s about to turn those connections into a brand new dealership. He’s put in a few fixes so that Kalmen is about to get approved for prime land and the bank support he needs to get on his feet. It’s a done deal until Kalmen does what he always does. He succumbs to another temptation. Suddenly he’s lost it all, and the best job he can get is working a diner counter in his old college town. But even there he’s not safe. His indiscretions have caused his one-time powerful ally to become a powerful enemy. He’s beaten and threatened.
If you can look beyond the unfortunate misrepresentation, you’ll enjoy this movie a whole lot more. Michael Douglas delivers one of his better performances. Of course, there’s not a lot to really like about this guy, but credit Douglas for making all of that possible. Certainly, the supporting cast is quite good here and includes some powerful names. But make no mistake. It’s Douglas that makes this thing go. When he’s working here, everyone else is a prop or set design. His old pal Danny DeVito makes an extended cameo here, and the two are pretty good together. There should have been more of it. These guys are close in real life, so the chemistry is very real. Jesse Eisenberg is a young standout as Daniel. Of course, you’ll remember Eisenberg from Zombieland. Daniel is a college kid who looks up to Kelman and is schooled in the ways of the world by him. Of course, Kelmen finds a way to betray him as he does everyone in the film. Most actors would struggle to insert some redeeming characteristic into such a person. Douglas opts to keep it real. The nuanced performance allows us to see that Kelman knows what a crappy guy he is. He just can’t help himself.
There are two directors on the film, but it’s likely that both Brian Koppelman and David Levien were smart enough to cast the film well and let the talent do what talent does. The film doesn’t have any heavy-handedness to it at all. The actors all appear quite natural. I’m not sure that it takes two guys just to get out of the way, but it did here. They make some interesting choices with some of the angles here, but I rather found it a bit fresh and original all the way around. I just wish these guys wouldn’t keep calling it a comedy. The only flaw in their plan is that they don’t really know what they have here. But now you will. Forget the comedy crap and go in expecting a dark and frank character study. Then you’ll love the film. If you keep expecting that funny routine to show up somewhere, you will not enjoy this film, and that’s too bad, because you should.
Solitary Man is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with a VC-1 codec at an average of only about 22 mbps. The film looks natural enough for the most part, but this isn’t the most shining example of high definition you’re going to find. The most remarkable part of the picture is in the close-up facial shots. There we get wonderful detail and clarity. The more the camera pulls out, the more detail we tend to lose and the softer the picture gets. Black levels are average.
The PCM 5.1 little more than the straightforward dialog the film happens to be. There aren’t any exotic environments, and there is no ear candy to speak of. It delivers the words and an extremely subtle score.
There is an Audio Commentary with Michael Douglas and director Brian Koppelman and fellow director/writer David Levien.
Solitary Man – Alone In A Crowd: (11;46) This piece focuses almost entirely on the cast. It’s the typical love-fest where everybody was just great to work with.
Finally, a film where actions have real consequences. I’ve grown rather weary of films that deliver unlikable characters who have done pretty bad things, only to find redemption waiting in the arms of a woman or some equally tiresome location. Here we have a flawed character who doesn’t find a miraculous cure for his flaws. He, instead, learns to live with them. The best he can hope for is to adapt to them. It’s a refreshing dose of realism. Anything else would be more than “a slight exaggeration”.
10/10/2010 @ 3:39 am
I think it’s the kind of movie you need to live some complex situations in your life to understand people like Ben. If you are 20 maybe you’ll find it boring. But if you are late 40s maybe you’ll get something.
I see my uncle in his character and somehow now I understand the way he goes.
10/10/2010 @ 3:47 am
Best phrase: “I was once, honey. It doesn’t last.” Someday it will have sense to everyone.
12/09/2010 @ 1:24 pm
You are 100% correct about the fact you should not expect a comedy and that if you expect a dark character study you will love the movie. It’s an excellent and overlooked movie. Nice review.