Michael Douglas has been perilously on the edge of cinematic irrelevance for some time now, with a string of lousy roles in terrible comedies (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, You, Me and Dupree), turgid thrillers (Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, The Sentinel), and a quirky indie (King of California) that never really caught fire.
Douglas has maintained his dignity and even turned in some performances that rose above the level of the material in this past decade, but it’s nice to see him using his talent in a project worthy of it — Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s Solitary Man.
Koppelman and Levien, whose big success came in writing Rounders, craft an excellent character study with Solitary Man, assembling a solid ensemble cast around Douglas, but allowing him to be the film’s primary force, following his narcissistic and self-destructive urges wherever they take him.
Douglas stars as Ben Kalmen, a once-successful car dealership owner who has fallen from grace thanks to unethical behavior. He’s divorced from Nancy (Susan Sarandon), but the two remain amiable, and he maintains a close relationship with daughter Susan (Jenna Fischer).
He’s currently in a relationship with younger woman Jordan Karsch (Mary-Louise Parker), but his sights are on even younger prospects, including Jordan’s daughter, Allyson (Imogen Poots), whom Ben agrees to accompany on her college admission interview at his alma mater.
Ben is a fascinating character for his ability to be completely likable and utterly despicable at almost the exact same moment. He does truly care about people, but he cares about himself more. He’s adrift in a sea of his own bad choices, and he has no anchor to prevent him from making whatever choice feels best in the moment.
The film communicates this beautifully, setting the viewer right down in the middle of Ben’s messy life. His past infidelities and immorality are never explored beyond cursory mentions — Ben is a man who lives for the present only, and the film follows suit, not looking too far backward or forward.
Eventually, Ben’s behavior leads him to seek out the simple life of longtime friend Jimmy Merino (Danny DeVito) and the friendship of a timid undergrad (Jesse Eisenberg), but he can be just as much of a dick even when he’s trying to cultivate new friendships. This is a character who’s not going to turn the corner.
Solitary Man has a number of scenes that subtly resonate, and even though the film aims for comedy occasionally, it’s got a dark and tragic core that contrasts strongly with Ben’s happy-go-lucky personality that’s almost completely in denial of reality.
The Blu-ray Disc
Solitary Man is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Don’t prepare to be blown away by the image, which is certainly clean with decent definition, but is hardly the picture of HD greatness. Likely this has more to do with the film, which occasionally struggles with a bland visual palette, than it does with the transfer. In its favor, the presentation is consistent, but it’s not revelatory.
Similarly, the audio, which is presented in a lossless PCM 5.1 track and a Dolby 5.1 option, has little to showcase in this completely dialogue-driven film. Ambient sound is at a minimum, but both tracks present a clean and clear option.
A lone featurette has interviews with most of the principal cast members, and it’s a genial enough experience. Koppelman and Levien are featured on a commentary track with actor Douglas McGrath, who is included despite his very small role in the film. The theatrical trailer also makes an appearance.
The Bottom Line
Solitary Man isn’t the kind of film that gets announced with lots of fanfare, but it’s an unexpectedly well-crafted piece of work.