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Saturday, September 4, 2010

SOLITARY MAN -- DVD review by porfle

SOLITARY MAN (2009) is one of those movies that I really don't like very much while I'm watching it, but after it's over it starts to sink in.  For the most part, I found it a dull and somewhat dispiriting viewing experience, and I don't know very many people I'd recommend it to, yet I can't say I'm sorry I watched it.

The film is well-written by Brian Koppelman (OCEAN'S THIRTEEN) and competently directed by both Koppelman and his partner David Levien, with a couple of nice moments here and there.  The first comes when highly successful auto dealership magnate Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas), who has everything going for him--a great wife and family, money, success--is told by his doctor that there may be something wrong with his heart.  The gregarious Ben goes stiff and all the sound drains from the room except for the ticking of a wall clock.  Suddenly, time is of the essence for Ben, and he begins the gradual ruination of everything solid and meaningful in his life in order to pursue as much carnal gratification as possible while he's still breathing. 

At first, we get the impression of big star Douglas strolling through a not-so-challenging role in a lightweight dramedy that seems to be pointlessly documenting the downward spiral of a real louse.  But both the performance and the story go deeper as they take us through Ben's lowest points and then, with the help of a wise old friend (Danny DeVito) and one of those sympathetic ex-wives who likes her former husband now that she's no longer hitched to him (Susan Sarandon), Ben faces the reasons for his decline and makes a tentative decision to reform. 

Until then, though, SOLITARY MAN heaps one unpleasant scenario on top of another to the extent that it's sometimes a chore to endure.  Having ruined his business reputation by getting caught in a scam, Ben's attempts to start over with a new dealership go into the crapper while his bills and overdue rent pile up.  His wealthy high-society lover Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker) asks him to accompany her daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots, who should really think about changing her name) to an interview at her prospective alma mater, where the very thing you might think unthinkable happens.  To top it off, Ben loses his apartment, is banned by his daughter (Jenna Fischer) from seeing his grandson, and gets the crap beaten out of him by a hired thug.  It's as though the filmmakers are trying to see how bummed out they can make us for no apparent reason. 

Douglas, who's looking and sounding more like his dad Kirk as he gets older, initially seems so brazenly nonchalant about his blatant indiscretions that it's hard to care about him until Ben's charm and false bravado finally start to fail him.  We naturally feel sorry for him when he hits bottom, but even then, he puts the moves on a cute college girl after he's helped a shy student (Jesse Eisenberg) win her affections.  By this time I was thinking that this jerk needs to get beaten up by a hired thug just to knock some sense into him.  It takes an eleventh-hour confession to his ex-wife before we really begin to understand and sympathize with him (which is mainly why I didn't start to like the film until it was almost over). 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a breezy commentary with directors Koppleman and Levien and actor Douglas McGrath, a "making of" featurette, and a trailer. 

As distasteful as it seems at the time, there's a strange fascination to watching Michael Douglas' character blithely indulge his basest impulses as though each day may be his last.  SOLITARY MAN begins with Ben hearing a clock ticking in his head, and ends with him deciding whether or not it's worth rewinding.

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