That is no fault of Jamie Foxx's performance creating a man who is tense, fearful, paranoid and probably schizophrenic.
When Foxx learned of this role, he might reasonably have sensed another Academy Award.
Unfortunately, the sceenwriter and director don't set up a structure for Oscar-style elevation, nor do they really want to make a serious and doleful film about mental illness.
"When Steve Lopez sees Nathaniel Ayers playing his heart out on a two-string violin on Los Angeles' Skid Row, he finds it impossible to walk away.
"The Soloist" has all the elements of an uplifting drama, except for the uplift.
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The story is compelling, the actors are in place, but I was never sure what the filmmakers wanted me to feel about it.
Based on a true story, it stars Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless man who was once a musical prodigy, and Robert Downey Jr.
as Steve Lopez, the Los Angeles Times columnist who writes a column about him, bonds with him, makes him famous, becomes discouraged by the man's mental illness and -- what? "Explaining madness is the most limiting and generally least convincing thing a movie can do," Pauline Kael once wrote.
"The Soloist" doesn't even seem sure how to depict it.
Unlike Russell Crowe's mathematician in "A Beautiful Mind," whose madness was understood through his own eyes, the musician here seems more of a loose cannon, unpredictable in random ways.