Directed by: Brian Koppelman and David Levien
Premise: A businessman (Michael Douglas) tries to hold onto his lifestyle and his family and his finances crumble.
What Works: Solitary Man is primarily a film about mortality and it manages to be smart and witty while dealing with a serious theme. Michael Douglas is great as a former used car magnate and he gives one of the best performances of his career. Douglas is a walking contradiction as his character retains the skills and intelligence of a successful businessman but cannot put those skills to any practical use and get himself out of the hole he has dug for himself. While this is true for his financial situation it is also true of his relationships, especially with his family and his casual flings with women. Like David Duchovny in Californication, Douglas is a master of charm, which makes his sexual adventures credible, but this is foiled by his self-destructive pride and his inability to resist temptation. That mixture sends him on a constant path of ups and downs, usually undoing whatever progress he has made with an act of self indulgent stupidity. In a place of desperation, Douglas’ character travels back to the town of his college years and he makes friends with an undergraduate played by Jesse Eisenberg. Their relationship is an interesting one, as Eisenberg’s character clearly looks up to Douglas’ troubled entrepreneur, and conversely Douglas wishes to recapture the vitality and possibility of youth. As the film pushes towards its climax, it effectively juxtaposes the choice to be made by its protagonist and in that the film is a timely and realistic take on the struggle between self control and indulgence. This is a part of another distinguishing characteristic of Solitary Man, which is that it is an entry in the recent trend of recession cinema, of which films like Up in the Air, The Company Men, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and The Girlfriend Experience are also a part. Solitary Man is one of the better films of this trend because it shows how the character suffers because of his pride and greed and yet also makes the audience empathize with his desires.
What Doesn’t: Solitary Man is a mid-life crisis story and the lead character’s flaws are familiar to viewers of similar stories. The film does it well and in the last third of its running time Solitary Man manages to shake up the formula with some unexpected turns such as the character’s visit to college. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that some viewers could resent Solitary Man, as it asks the audience to empathize with a man who makes very selfish decisions.
DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, and featurettes.
Bottom Line: Solitary Man is a very good film. It includes a great performance by Michael Douglas and acts out some interesting observations about mortality.
Episode: #324 (January 30, 2011)