'Solitary Man' is deep, dark and good

"Solitary Man" is an exceptional film. It is also a not always pleasant snapshot of a deeply flawed 60-year-old man, Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas), once famous and now infamous, who realizes, to his chagrin and surprise, that the center of his life will no longer hold.

He's charming and slippery and seemingly incapable of making choices that don't have serious blowback. Once an affluent denizen of Manhattan, respected as a businessman, he has firmly hit the wall, and his life is now imploding in slow motion. He cheated on his wife, Nancy (Susan Sarandon), they're now divorced, he became a compulsive womanizer, and he refuses to fully accept that the deeply lined face that peers back at him every morning in the mirror (after he takes his baby aspirin) is that of a grandfather, absent most, if not all, of the vestiges of his youth. Time has changed him externally. The internecine warfare is now all internal.

Is the film dark? Yes, but in a good way. An interesting way. For, though Ben has done just about everything in his power to isolate himself from those who care about him, this is a film about relationships. He is surrounded by people who still care about him, those who still remember the man who was and refuse to fully accept the man he has become: dissolute and self-indulgent and even a bit desperate.

It is those people, meaning the actors who portray them, along with an exceptional performance by Douglas, who lift this film into a different realm, from one potentially dreary, a tedious unraveling, to a series of conversations and confrontations that are, in their own way, sublime. It's wonderful acting and fine writing.

The performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Cheston, a naïve college student; and Imogen Poot as Allyson, the daughter of Ben's lover (who Ben seduces on a college interview trip); to the insightful moments he spends with an old pal, Jimmy, portrayed by Danny DeVito; and even a brief scene with Richard Schiff, a brilliant character actor — the ensemble is remarkable.

Douglas has aged nicely and rather than become a cliché, he has taken roles that allow him to explore, in "Solitary Man" (as well as "Wonder Boys"), a flawed yet compelling character, to search out and find nuance and subtlety and humanity.

What is the wall that Ben hits and the cause of his transformation? This may be where the film slightly stumbles. Ben is told early in the narrative that his EKG has some irregularities. Suddenly he is faced with his own mortality, a reality he is loathe to face let alone accept. It's a thin rationale for the lengths Ben goes to in pushing back against the inevitable, and it doesn't fully explain his insouciant self-destructiveness. It's just possible that he lacks the essential integrity and courage or the will to live the last third of his life with self-understanding and acceptance rather than fleeing into self-deluded distraction.

No matter. "Solitary Man" is not a dark movie. It's a wonderful movie. A penetrating character study and a meditation, of sorts, on the human condition. Such as it is. Since late spring, and now summer, such films have been rare.


In 1924, Richard Connell wrote "The Most Dangerous Game," a classic story that would be much anthologized and used as a Hollywood template again and again.

In a nutshell, the tale begins with a big game hunter falling overboard in the dark of night, near a mysterious island. Swimming to shore, he discovers that a Russian aristocrat inhabits the island, a bored, effete man who is also a big game hunter. As it turns out, the Russian insists that the two men play a dangerous game in which he, the Russian, is the hunter and his guest the prey. It is a taut tale.

That plot framed the first 1987 "Predator" film, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, also set in a Nicaraguan jungle where aliens begin to hunt a group of U.S. Special Forces, killing them one by one.

In this most recent incarnation, "Predators" is neither a reboot of the first nor is it a sequel, of which there have been many, even a couple of "Alien vs. Predator" films. Of course, the two monsters were inspired creations that have captured (haunted?) the imaginations of audiences for decades.

Unexpectedly, this latest movie has a solid cast led by Oscar-winning Adrien Brody ("The Pianist") and the talented Alice Braga. Both are mercenaries who, along with a very strange crew, are dropped into the jungle by parachute with no memory of how they got there. They soon sort out that something is stalking them; in other words, they are prey. What is after them is large and dangerous. Let the games begin.

The movie relies very little on CGI; rather, it's retro in its spare use of special effects relying on compelling performances, which the crew delivers, as well as the very weird, creepy predators who roar and click with eloquence. It's pulp cinema at its best, if you are a fan of the genre.

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