Saturday 12 April 2014

Movie Review: Solitary Man (2009)

An impressive study of a late-onset middle age crisis, Solitary Man delves into the damaged soul of a man on a desperate run from change.

Aging car dealer tycoon Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) is advised by his doctor that his heart may not be healthy, and more tests are needed. Ben refuses to follow up with any further exams. Six years later, Ben's life is in a downward spiral. He has left his wife Nancy (Susan Sarandon), and his business is in trouble. Found guilty of fraud, Ben had to pay a ruinous fine just to stay out of prison. He is now in a relationship with Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker), primarily because she has high-level contacts that can help him land a sweet new car dealership location.

Ben tries to maintain a relationship with his daughter Susan (Jenna Fischer) and his young grandson, but his erratic behaviour doesn't help: Ben has become an irresponsible sex addict, particularly lusting after college girls. He accompanies Jordan's daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots) to a college interview weekend, where they meet earnest student Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg). Ben and Allyson sleep together, which ruptures Ben's relationship with Jordan, destroying his business prospects and driving him deeper into the financial hole. He has to turn to humble campus restaurant owner Jimmy (Danny DeVito) for a job, but his troubles are far from over.

At almost exactly 90 minutes, Solitary Man is an efficient drama about the fear of losing the prime of life. Written by Brian Koppelman and co-directed by Koppelman and David Levien, the film follows the trajectory of Ben Kalmen as he veers off course and into an orbit of his own making, where rules can be flaunted with no consequence as long as the march of time is covered by a veneer of superficiality. Kalmen is a tortured soul denying the certainty of aging, seeking immediate and accelerated profit and youthful sex in a futile attempt to compensate for the creeping years.

Michael Douglas delivers one of his most complete performances, understated, determined and raw, finding the anchor of self-deception that keeps Ben grounded in his own world while reality slips by, his life deconstruction obvious to all except himself. In support, Imogen Poots is particularly memorable as Allyson, coldly demonstrating the other side of the coin, revealing why college-aged girls may enjoy a fling with a much older man. It's not about being attracted to power anymore; the experience has much more to do with ticking off fantasies and pushing the buttons of irritating parents.

The other women in the movie suffer somewhat at the hand of the sharp editing, Susan Sarandon and Mary-Louise Parker particularly short-changed. Jesse Eisenberg's role as a potential protege is also underwritten. Jenna Fischer fares better as Ben's suffering daughter, trying to keep her young boy in touch with his grandpa while resenting her father's descent into a life of irresponsibility.

Not surprisingly, Kalmen's suppression of the self-evident leads him headlong into a brick wall, a figurative and literal physical bruising which at least forces pause and reflection. The trip towards selfish self-gratification may seem exhilarating, but it ends in a lonely place.

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