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Solitary Man Review


RATING:
(3 STARS)

Solitary Man reminded me a lot of an earlier 2010 entry, Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give. Both are message films that use their flawed characters to motivate the viewers to doing something. Holofcener’s film wants you to be kinder; Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s film cautions you against taking family and friends for granted. But where Please Give fails (its characters are straight up despicable), Solitary Man succeeds. As contemptible as Michael Douglas’ lead character is, we care about him and want him to change. Credit that to the actor, who overcomes a very familiar story arc and turns out one of his very best performances. Forget Gordon Gekko. Ben Kalman is the role Michael Douglas should be remembered for this year.

Kalman (Douglas) used to be on top of the world. He was one of the most successful used car dealers in the tri-state area, and was regarded by most as a very honest one. He had a loving wife (Susan Sarandon) and a wonderful daughter (Jenna Fischer). But after a medical scare, he threw it all away. He started cheating, both on his wife and his customers, and six years later, he’s a completely changed individual. He’s struggling to restart his business after paying the price for his dishonest dealings, so he starts sleeping with a younger woman, Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker), solely for her connections. But he can’t be faithful to her. He sleeps around with any younger woman who will give him the time of day, including Jordan’s 18-year-old daughter, Allyson (Imogen Poots). He needs to change if anyone will give him the time of day again, but is he capable of change? And more importantly, does he want to change?

This is more of a character study than anything, so the film doesn’t have a very deliberate narrative path. And this type of character study certainly doesn’t earn points for originality (As Good as It Gets and Greenberg share a ton with this film). It does earn points for the way it invests us in Ben’s transformation, but then it cheats with the ending, which is unsatisfying to say the least.

But watching an actor like Michael Douglas sink his teeth into a role like this is more than worth 90 minutes of your time. He completely owns this film, appearing in nearly every scene, and he doesn’t miss a note. Ben is incredibly charismatic and quite humorous at times, like everything in his life is going swimmingly. But he also shows some deeply twisted personality traits as the film goes on, including a tragically desperate desire to maintain the illusion of success. Like the film, there’s nothing groundbreaking about his work. But it’s good—really good.

The supporting cast is solid all around, though no one comes close to matching Douglas’ work. Imogen Poots has perhaps the most interesting role. Her character is almost a younger female version of Ben (though her obsession is hurting her mother, rather than appearing smart and successful). Susan Sarandon and Jenna Fischer don’t have much to do other than support and encourage Ben. And Jesse Eisenberg (as a college student who looks up to Ben) doesn’t match his brilliant work in The Social Network, but he’s refreshingly understated—not at all the Jesse Eisenberg from Zombieland and Adventureland, among other films.

Solitary Man isn’t much more than one great performance, but it’s an easy film to watch and enjoy. It’s not challenging or unusual, but it knows what it wants to do and does it well.

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