' ' Cinema Romantico: Solitary Man

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Solitary Man

"You know what it's like at our age - the best thing a doctor can tell you is 'The survival rate is high' or 'it's the good kind of cancer' or 'we caught it in time.'"

Movies, of course, should only be judged on how their content is presented and not how that content relates to the real world but every now and then a movie's content is frighteningly relevant to the real world and, my God, is "Solitary Man", released but a week ago on DVD, frighteningly relevant when considering its star recently revealed he has Stage 4 Throat Cancer.

That star is Michael Douglas who in Brian Koppelman's film is Ben Kalmen, a longtime slick and successful huckster in the car salesman game who as the film opens is told by his doctor that his EKG looks suspicious. In what way? We are not told, and we are not told because Ben is not told and this is because Ben promptly exits the doctor's office and never returns. Not for six-and-a-half years.

When we catch up with Ben he is dating a living, breathing mannequin, Jordan (Mary Louise Parker), though with ample one night stands on the side, and she convinces him to squire her daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots) for a college campus visit, a college to which Ben has donated so generously his name adorns a building and, thus, he no doubt can put in a few nice words with the Dean. Allyson wants to ditch Ben. Ben won't have it, although he also refuses to subsribe to the typical chaperone routine and let's her do pretty much whatever she wants, until they find themselves in a hotel bar having a wonderous and twisted variation on the father/daughter chat. But then something happens, not that I would dream of revealing it, and it turns everything on its head.

There are other particulars, to be sure, like the daughter (Jenna Fischer) and the grandson he neglects and the tailspin of his business brought on by sordid details of the past which will gradually be revealed and he even manages to muck up his brief mentorship of a young student (Jesse Eisenberg) at Allyson's college, all of which, and more, are a collage of self-destruction.

The core of this character is nothing new for Douglas but his performance is fresh, layered and magnificent. It brings to mind Sir Mick Jagger, another graying lothario, 14 months older than Douglas, who about a decade ago sneered the line, "You'll never make a saint of me." Ben Kalmen easily could have turned into some sort of saint. The farther the character plunges, the more pity threatens, the more a pardon looms, and yet to his immense credit Douglas simply refuses to let this guy off so easy. Most critical is a late scene on a park bench with his ex wife (Susan Sarandon) that could have easily sopped into the Plea For Forgiveness. It very well might have read that way on paper but Douglas plays it as man under oath and just trying to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It's not an excuse. He's not "explaining". He's describing to her, and us, what happened. Nothing more. Think of him what you will.

I think he's unlikeable and magnetic. I think Oliver Stone's sequel to "Wall Street" is set to hit theaters very soon but I don't think anyone needs to see it to learn what happened to Gordon Gekko. I think "Solitary Man" has already told that story.


Danny King said...

I agree that a lot of this film's material feels recycled, but I do think Douglas does a great job in the role. In fact, I think the final scene with Sarandon is one of the few moments in the film that felt as fresh and original as the performance.

Nick Prigge said...

I'm with you 100%. I think Douglas is great. In fact, if I had my druthers he would be getting Oscar talk.