Saturday, September 11, 2010

A movie review: Solitary Man (2010)

Note: This film came out earlier in the year and will probably not be showing at this time

Solitary Man (2010)

Director - Brian Koppelman

90 Min; R


Michael Douglas - Ben Kalmen
Susan Sarandon - Nancy Kalmen
Danny DeVito - Jimmy Merino
Jenna Fischer - Susan
Jessee Eisenberg - Daniel
Imogen Poots - Allyson
Mary Louise Parker - Jordan

The movie opens in a way that leaves no doubt as to what kind of film we are to see nor what kind of man Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) is likely to be. Walking alone to the background song Solitary Man (A very strong version by Johnny Cash, but clearly not as great as the original Neil Diamond version) we see where the director is going to take this figure. The title says a lot, but Douglas makes it his own. Solitary Man is not breaking any new ground with material, but it does a wonderful job at portraying what can and does happen to people who burn all their bridges and live with a self-destructive nature. I wasn't sure Michael Douglas would be the correct actor to pull this off, but I am happy to admit that I was wrong.

There is a lot going on for a film of only 90 minutes and I'd like to think that this should have been a 2 hour film. Some relationships feel perfectly fleshed out, yet I find myself wanting to have known a bit more about some of them. Maybe that is the sign of a good film though, leaving me wanting to know just a bit more without feeling anything was left out.

Ben Kalmen was a successful car salesmen - 'the most honest' in the business - and a pseudo-celebrity in his region. He had money, power and fame. What Ben's life was like up until this point is not really known and it is hard to decipher from the movie, but what is certain is that around this time Ben's doctor informs him that he has a heart murmur and needs more tests because it could be very serious.

Ben does not go back for more tests.

Over the course of the next 6 years Ben's life takes a downward turn. His family life falls apart and his relationship with his daughter (Jenna Fischer) and his grandson is on shaky ground. He has creepy tendencies towards his 18 year old step-daughter (Imogen Poots) and while accompanying her on a college interview he befriends a nerdy college kid Daniel (Jessee Eisenberg) and does his best to teach him how to meet girls. He is a revolving door of sex with nameless women in bars and off the street whom he does his very best to never learn anything about and to never see again.

What happened? Well, after learning of his potential impending death, Ben decided sort of lost perspective. He got involved in a shady car scam that left him in jail for a night and on all the front page papers. He paid a very very large sum of his own money to get out of real prison, but now he is struggling just to make ends meet. His old friend Jimmy (Danny DeVito) lets him work at his deli, lending advice on what it means to be faithful to a woman for 30 years and to be content with making 58k a year and living a decent life. That is not Ben's life.

Ultimately what makes this movie work is Douglas's ability to make Ben a real person. This is a person we all seem to know in life. He is out for himself, yet he is sort of guilty about it and tries to make amends with those around him. He has real problems, but he functions within society to an extent that allows him to get through the days. The ending to this movie is very satisfactory and I am not spoiling anything by revealing that it isn't some tidy neat package with a bow, which I was scared was coming with about 10 minutes left.

**** out of 5

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