Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Brian Koppelman and David Levien

Cast: Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer, Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Richard Schiff, Jake Richard Siciliano, David Costabile

MPAA Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 5/21/10 (limited); 6/11/10 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 10, 2010

The final image of Solitary Man presents Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) with a choice between continuing down the path of his life it's been for over the last six years or going back to the way things were before that. Either way he chooses will be dishonest on some level, so it's perhaps only fair that he's left in an undecided limbo at the fade to black.

The fact Ben's spiral into failure is left to such a simplistic pair of options in the first place is unfair, although it's indicative of the man's lateral way of thinking. Left with the news that something might be wrong with his heart, he avoids the necessary tests to figure out the problem (and even if there even is one in the first place) and the treatment and runs off to sleep with the first woman who will have him. It's not the specifics but the mere assertion and reminder that he will die one day that sets him off.

Instead of dealing with it directly, he heads the other direction, taking an aspirin every morning, having sex with any woman who will succumb to his now aging charms, and flushing his reputation as New York's most honest car dealer to make a financial killing.

Ben's story starts with him seemingly at rock bottom, having lost his marriage to Nancy (Susan Sarandon) and his business for his shady practices. He confides his women troubles in and borrows money from his daughter Susan (Jenna Fischer), as her son (Jake Richard Siciliano) worships him and her husband (David Costabile) scoffs at and scolds him.

The joke of writer/co-director Brian Koppelman and David Levien's film is how much further Ben has to fall beyond the depths of the pit he's dug for himself. He's in a relationship with Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker), whom, though almost two decades his junior, he thinks might be a bit too old for his tastes. Her daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots) is looking at colleges, and Ben has an in with the dean. Jordan wants him to escort Allyson, put in a good word, and make sure she doesn't get into too much trouble.

That setup alone would seem the start of its own story. Instead, Ben goes to a party with his campus tour guide Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), a young kid without a way with the ladies. He teaches Daniel how to talk to women and finds himself back at the hotel bar with Allyson.

He tells her how to get what she wants from a guy, and she's more than happy to test out Ben's advice on him. After all, she hates Jordan's overbearing ways, and sleeping with her mother's boyfriend is at least one big step in getting payback. After it's all over and Allyson distances herself from Ben, his biggest shock is that she's never played poker before.

From here, things get even worse. Jordan was Ben's way to get back his own dealership, but after the betrayal, that's out the window. He sleeps with one of Susan's friends, and it's the last straw after so many other broken promises. He moves into a smaller apartment and falls behind on the rent. Without a job or a family, that would seem the absolute bottom of Ben's well of problems, but there is more on the way.

What keeps the film from devolving into an escalating string of misfortune is Koppelman's resolution to keep the blame entirely on Ben's shoulders. It is not a case of how much worse can things get for Ben but how much can one man muck up his life so routinely and without second thoughts.

The paradox of Ben is that he wants to reclaim the success and stability of his past without sacrificing his sense of freedom from it. Sure, the introduction of a hired goon to teach Ben a physical lesson and hence maybe learn an emotional one takes things a bit too far on the contrivance scale. An old college buddy Jimmy (Danny DeVito), at whose deli Ben takes a job when his car dealing days are all but over, and his unwavering support of Ben in even the hardest of times is perhaps a more likely source of revelation for a man who believes he is entirely alone in his life. All Jimmy is left to do is give a speech about why he doesn't consider trying his luck at the multitude of college women who walk through his restaurant's doors year in and out.

The ending, too, as we began, is problematic in its straightforward granting of two options. Still, Solitary Man has an unwavering focus of a flawed but interesting character and a solid performance from Douglas as a charmer who's skated by for too long.

Copyright 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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