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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Solid Performance from a Solitary Man

Solitary Man:  3 and 1/2 out of 5 Stars
Ben: Here, give me a hug; It'll make her think we're married.
Susan: Yuck, dad!
A drama, or better - a comedic tragedy about a man who has washed away a persona he used to have in order to live his later days in life to the fullest.  Michael Douglas puts in some of his best work as this character, and the supporting cast is quite good as well.  While the film really only functions to give Douglas as much good material as possible to work with, despite the simple structure going on around him, there is enough in the way of what occurs to make it a good film.

Douglas stars as Ben Kalmen, a man who was a very successful car dealership owner, loving husband and father, with things looking good.  Cut to six years later, after learning of a possible heart condition, and Ben has gone out of his way to pretty much ruin his reputation.  He is now essentially blackballed from selling cars, has divorced his wife, and remains a questionable person to be around.  Despite all this, Ben pursues his broader life outlook.  He lusts after women more than half his age and lays on the kind of charm that works better at a distance than once you get to hang out with him.

Among the people in his life, you have Susan Sarandon as his ex-wife, Jenna Fischer as his daughter, Mary-Louise Parker as his latest mistress, and Imogen Poots as her daughter.  During the course of this film, Ben is tasked to take the Poots character to the school he graduated from in an effort to speak well on her behalf.  During this time, Ben meets Cheston, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who is essentially playing an older version of his role in a similar film, Roger Dodger.  Ben of course gives Cheston some advice that Ben, himself, could have benefited from in years past.  Ben also runs into an old friend played by Danny DeVito, who runs the local diner on campus.  All of these various relationships are tested, as Ben continues on his path of self destruction.

Ben Kalmen: You got your little jokes, you know, the Spanish thing, interests are the same, and the studying. But, um, are you getting it, you know, where it counts?
As I've said, the work done by Douglas is some of his best.  Easily one of his top performances.  He is one of the rare older actors of today who could probably pull off a performance like this, where his actions can be described as despicable, yet be able to be likable due to the misdirection he can lay on a person with his charm.

Helping out the film are many of these supporting players.  Surandon is always a reliable actress, as is DeVito, but I was also impressed by Fischer, who manages to do more than just be Pam from The Office.  Eisenberg is solid as well, and he continues to be a reliable young actor.

The shortcomings of this film are the ways in which it turns to conventions towards the end, which aren't drastic enough to push this film off the rails, but it certainly doesn't become a feature greater than others like it.  The film could have also benefited from some more exploration of the successful version of Ben's character.

Written and directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, both of Rounders fame and frequent collaborators with Steven Soderbergh, who serves as a producer, the film certainly benefits from the way they write dialogue and allow scenes to play out with a natural feel.  The script is fairly quick witted (despite it's poor choice to have a character refer to disc golf as "frolfing") and works well enough to keep us involved with the characters.

Very solid character drama.

Ben Kalmen: I say a whole lot of stuff.  You know, some of it's even the truth.

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