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The Soloist is best seen on DVD

August 07, 2009 10:55 IST

For an intimate and thought provoking film to be seen in the DVD version, The Soloist could be the week's best bet. The film, directed by Joe Wright who made his American debut here following his British work Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, is certainly not his best. But it has solid merits including engaging performances The film, which grossed about $60 million worldwide, was an underperformer. But it could have a strong run on DVD and Blu-ray.

The film is inspired by the story of journalist and columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr), a Caucasian, whose friendship with a highly gifted black street musician, changes his own life and offers a new lease of life for the latter.

Lopez, whose personal life is in shambles encounters Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) playing violin in one of Los Angeles' streets (the Skid Row) filled with homeless and drug addicts. Lopez smells a story for the newspaper. But as he gets to know more of Ayers, a friendship develops between the two, and we come to know that Ayers had studied at the prestigious Julliard in New York.

What went wrong with Ayers is part of the story; what could become of him is the suspenseful part of the film. Even those who have read Lopez's best-selling book would be watching the proceedings with animated suspense thanks to the slick editing

The film received mixed reviews; some critics pointed out that it lacked depth. One critic wrote that the film 'conjured from that by writer Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) and Wright, however, is a balm for white liberal guilt, particularly the kind that draws comfort from the notion that more Beethoven concertos is the cure for homelessness in America.'

And yet the film holds your attention much more than most summer releases. Watching it at home leads to an intense experience. For it is one of those films that grow more intimate on a smaller screen.

The extras in the DVD and Blu-ray editions tell us the story of how Wright flew to Los Angeles from London to see the Skid Row and the Lamp Community in Los Angeles, the advocacy group that offers nearly 200 private apartments for the homeless, including the one where Ayers lives. Wright has said he was possessed by a desire 'bring the rich humanity of this invisible part of the city's population out into the open.' 

'The people I met on Skid Row are the reason I'm making this film,' he said in the production notes for the film. His thoughts are amplified in the additional material that comes with the DVD and Blu-ray versions. 'They are the kindest, gentlest, funniest and most honest people I've ever met. If you let them, they will change your life.'

He added: 'These people are the most disenfranchised people in American society and don't generally have a voice. I wanted our film to be able to give them that voice.'

Extras: The two versions (DVD and Blu-ray) offer plenty of insights about making the film, a visit with the real Lopez and Ayers, segments on homelessness, and commentary by director Joe Wright. And then there are a few deleted scenes which don't add up to much.But Wright's comments and seeing the real life Lopez and Ayers add strength.

Arthur J Pais