This week, Jamie Foxx (he of Miley-insulting fame) is back at the box office in The Soloist. Opposite Robert Downey Jr.’s conniving-but-conscientious newspaper man Steve Lopez, Foxx does his best to channel real-life musician Nathaniel Ayers, a schizophrenic talent who went from attending Juilliard as a young cello phenom to wandering the run-down streets of Los Angeles playing a violin with two strings. The role calls to mind Russell Crowe’s portrayal of math whiz John Nash in Ron Howard’s 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind, which swept the Oscars in 2001. Do Foxx, Downey, and company have the chops to parlay their earnest drama into Academy Gold? Glad you asked.
The Crazy Man
The Soloist: The scene in which Ayers finally disintegrates under the weight of the demons in his head is absolutely heart-breaking, as the sweet, hopeful rube in the big city succumbs to the terror that’s been threatening his promising career.
A Beautiful Mind: Crowe is effectively aloof as the trapped-in-his-mind Nash, but it’s hard to see past the mathematical savant to the man inside.
The winner: The Soloist. Foxx’s Ayers is a timid, troubled romantic trapped in the body of the kind of person you wouldn’t want sitting too close to your kids. Is this the same guy we last saw blowing up Saudi bombers in The Kingdom?
The Good Samaritan
The Soloist: Robert Downey Jr. is predictably likable as the skittish columnist who takes Ayers under his wing, yet he doesn’t downplay the exploitation implicit in his character’s friendship with his subject.
A Beautiful Mind: Jennifer Connelly, as the long-suffering wife to Crowe’s Nash, adds another dimension to the story that makes his suffering all the more tragic.
The winner: A Beautiful Mind. It’s hard to watch a friend struggle with mental illness but your husband?
The Soloist: An unusual affinity for sequined top hats and tin-foil outerwear, plus the disarming tendency to run into oncoming traffic.
A Beautiful Mind: Creepy mathematical scribblings for the most part — in addition to a truly unsettling scene in which Crowe tries to dig an imagined Pentagon implant out of his arm.
The winner: A Beautiful Mind. Kudos to the writers for creating a universe that sucks you so completely into his protagonist’s delusions.
Examples That No Film Is Perfect
The Soloist: In an inexplicably bizarre moment, the filmmakers choose to illustrate Ayers’ visions with an extended psychedelic montage of the sort last seen in cheap screensavers from the 1990s.
A Beautiful Mind: All goes well until the final scene in the movie, when an elderly Nash and his wife (Jennifer Connelly) appear at a Nobel Prize ceremony in what can only be described as a cautionary tale for cosmetic-arts students considering playing hooky during aging-makeup class.
The winner: A tie. There are no winners in this sad no-man’s-land of lame effects and time-wasting knob-twiddling.
The winner: A Beautiful Mind. But watch your back, Crowe. Foxx is dangerously close to stealing your crown.