Anchor Bay // 2010 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // October 21st, 2010
Ben loves his family almost as much as he loves himself.
Brian Koppelman's and David Levien's independent drama Solitary Man features one of Michael Douglas' best performances ever. That alone makes this a must-see. A compelling in-depth look at the deteriorating life of a formerly successful businessman who refuses to grow old, this little masterpiece shines through strong writing and top-notch acting, a wonderful combination we don't get to experience too often these days.
Douglas slips into the complex role of Ben Kalmen, a self-centered Manhattan resident and former car dealership guru who thinks he can own the world. Without caring too much about what is going on around him, Ben spends his time using his charm to pick up women, deliver cool speeches, and try to find a way back into business. What Ben fails to realize, however, is that his exaggerated behavior and his habit of ignoring the things that really matter in life are progressively causing his ultimate downfall.
Ben Kalmen is not exactly a likeable character, but that's also what makes him so intriguing to watch. He uses his charm to manipulate the people around him in the film, and, in a way, we as spectators fall for it as well. We know he has done and still is doing a lot of wrong, but in a way, we also hope he'll eventually realize that in order to catch a break and better himself as a human being, he's going to reevaluate his priorities and finally face the fact that he is getting older, no matter how much he resists it. Solitary Man tracks his journey from solitude to a new beginning; observing Ben as he makes this tricky transition proves to be quite unique.
What primarily makes this film so successful and real is Brian Koppelman's outstanding writing. While his excellent character development is certainly one of the reasons the film flows so well, it's mostly the dialogue that hits the right notes all across the board. Witty, sincere, and at times both very cynical and truthful, the lines these fine performers get to work with constantly inject the story of Solitary Man with great meaning and a sense of curiosity that's hard to ignore. Douglas spends the majority of the movie babbling away, but not one word of all his talk is unnecessary.
Essentially, Ben's attitude and his look at life got stuck somewhere while his body kept aging. He still thinks he's got it to be as successful as he once was, but he fails to realize he's rusty. He's sleeping with an influential woman (Mary-Louise Parker) because he needs to get some sort of permit to build a new car dealership, and while he has big plans for the future, he's low on cash, which is why he's asking his daughter (Jenna Fisher) for financial support. Alas, his relationship with the family he has left is mediocre to say the least, and that further complicates things.
For Ben, everything really starts to fall apart when he is asked to accompany his lover's daughter (Imogen Poots) to a college interview, and what follows is a series of misfortunes that push him to the brink of disaster. Needless to say, watching Ben stumble from one bad-luck adventure into another is quite entertaining, and if it weren't for Douglas' flawless performance, Solitary Man would not have the same impact on its audience. He owns the movie and shines in every scene he's in, proving yet again that with the right role, he's an actor who can do about anything.
Koppelman and Levien also benefit from a superb supporting cast. Poots delivers the goods as the naive young woman falling for Ben's advice, while Parker turns in a short but effective performance as her mother. Fisher does a fine job playing Ben's daughter, who seems to act more as parent to him that he was at least supposed to be to her. Also starring are Susan Sarandon as Ben's ex and Danny DeVito as his former friend. You rarely see a cast connecting this well in an indie drama, and that certainly speaks for the film.
Anchor Bay's Blu-ray disc boasts a superb 2.25:1 widescreen presentation of the film, complete with a sharp and clean picture quality with strong colors throughout. In terms of audio, viewers can select either the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround option or the PCM 5.1 transfer, which I admit I prefer. The overall audio tracks of the latter just sound richer. Special features on the disc include a traditional featurette and an entertaining audio commentary with both directors and actor Douglas McGrath.
I've seen Solitary Man several times now, and I always discover something new. It's a smart, beautifully shot indie boasting a fabulous cast and compelling characters, and I can only recommend the Blu-ray edition of the film. It's a must-see for Michael Douglas fans.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R