Juilliard dropout Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx) is homeless, schizophrenic and plays on a ratty violin with only two strings, but that doesn't stop him from making beautiful music. When Steve Lopez (Downey), a Los Angeles Times columnist searching for a story, stumbles upon Ayers during a trip through L.A.'s slums, the two strike up a complicated, rewarding relationship.
Sound familiar? It should, and not just because The Soloist is based on a true story (see page 34). The homeless prodigy has become as much a Hollywood cliché as the hooker with a heart of gold, and The Soloist fails to break any new ground. Foxx is adequate in a tough part, but he's no match for Downey—has he ever given a bad performance?—who wisely underplays his role, content to stand back and take everything in just like the smart reporter that Lopez is. He's the film's real soloist. But the rest of the movie, directed with a heavy hand by Joe Wright (Atonement), doesn't follow in Downey's nimble footsteps. Instead, it labors away loudly, and desperately, to win our love.