The one key to every movie is that the audience must like your hero. They may not agree with the hero or even accept his choices, but they must care about the hero and want him to win (or lose). You can have people love or hate your hero, but you can’t have them be indifferent.
Just saw “The Soloist” with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Not a bad movie, but not a great one either. It’s worth seeing, but what made the movie less than great for me was that I didn’t feel an emotional bond with the hero played by Robert Downey Jr.
Initially, we see him arguing with his ex-wife about talking to their son on the phone, which sets up the hero’s inability to care for anyone else. But I didn’t feel empathy for this guy.
He plays a Los Angeles Times reporter and during the first 15 minute segment, his life should feel like a dead-end. However, it doesn’t feel necessarily bad.
At the beginning of the movie, he has a bicycle accident and gets hurt. There’s no explanation for how he got into an accident, but this takes up a good chunk of the movie at the beginning as he gradually heals.
What the first 15 minute segment of the movie should do is make us care about the hero. We need to see him trapped and lost in his current life. In “The Soloist,” Robert Downey Jr. just seems like he’s in a less than ideal life, but nothing terrible that needs to change. Because of that, the rest of the movie suffers because although he eventually learns the value of friendship and commitment, he started from a position of not dramatically lacking friendship and commitment in his life anyway. So his character arc from beginning to end is small and important, but not dramatic enough.
I liked “The Soloist” but when I left the theater, I couldn’t help thinking that this was simply a good movie when it could have been a great one. After thinking about the construction of the story, I came to the conclusion that the script didn’t set up the hero and the story adequately, and thus hurt the rest of the otherwise well-constructed story.
You have to make your hero likable by making him a victim of circumstances that shows his life stagnant and going nowhere with no hope or future.
Think of Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars.” If R2D2 didn’t show up, he would still have been stuck wasting away on that desert planet. In “The Soloist,” Robert Downey Jr. would have still had a decent job working as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Not a bad life, and being separated from his wife doesn’t seem like he’s suffering too badly either.
In short, we need to see Robert Downey Jr. suffering a lot more in the beginning. He needs to be living in a dead-end situation and then suddenly finding Jamie Foxx should have changed both of their lives.
“The Soloist” is a good movie, but with a better beginning, it could have been a great one.