Solitary Man -- Film Review

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With "Solitary Man," you're made to wonder: How can a man who once possessed the gift of charm and success throw everything away to wallow in sleaze and deceit?

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TORONTO -- The solitary man in "Solitary Man" is thoroughly unpleasant for the entire running time of 90 minutes. Fortunately, he is played by Michael Douglas, which makes Ben Kalmen at least fascinating ... in a perverse sort of way. So you're made to wonder: How can a man who once possessed the gift of charm and success throw everything away to wallow in sleaze and deceit?

The answer to that question comes at about the 86-minute mark. It's not worth the wait -- and you aren't likely to buy the explanation anyway.

Directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien -- the writers of, among other screenplays, "Ocean's Thirteen" and "Rounders" -- certainly know the right people for Steven Soderbergh came aboard as a producer while Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker and Jenna Fischer all signed on to star. This attractive cast may help get an audience, but they will surely puzzle over such a downward-spiraling story that lacks inner logic.

Initially Ben reminds you of any number of Michael Douglas characters. He's essentially Gordon Gekko after a bad year or two. A self-made man who once graced the cover of Forbes, Ben was caught in a senseless scam and lost a string of East Coast car dealerships. His insistent skirt chasing also has cost him his marriage to his college sweetheart (Sarandon).

Ben appears to be staging a comeback though as he closes in on a deal to open a new, can't-miss car dealership. (That last notion is a tip-off this is probably an old script by Koppelman that predates the financial meltdown.) But as the script will make increasingly clear as the story moves along, Ben has a deep-rooted self-destructive streak. Actually it's more like a death wish, though this won't be the explanation the filmmakers eventually deliver.

Days before the deal closes, Ben can't resist bedding the daughter (Imogen Poots) of his current squeeze (Parker). A wealthy divorcee, she is seemingly connected to everyone from Wall Street to the underworld so there goes the dealership.

It gets worse. His daughter (Fischer) turns her back on him. Everyone gives him a brush-off, and eventually he winds up waiting tables at his former college deli run by an old friend (DeVito).

That things can go south this quickly is implausible, but given his cavalier treatment of everyone, family included, and compulsive pursuit of very young women, he was going to wind up in the gutter anyway. Again, it's somewhat implausible that a hired thug dumps him there, but there is no question he deserves it.

The problem in having Douglas portray such a character is that the star does possess the kind of charm supposedly belonging to Ben Kalmen. So you can't quite believe this deserts him so rapidly. His smoothness with business associates, a university dean and good-looking women turns to smarminess overnight. Not credible. Nor is the cause for all this self-sabotage.

Koppelman and Levien do not possess a strong visual sense. Scenes play out in static medium or even long shots with little sense of vitality. Dialogue, relied on far too heavily, is smartly delivered, but the scenes themselves are flat.

Even with a pro like Douglas dominating the film, it's hard to work up much interest in a character or story so resolutely determined to take downward turns at every opportunity.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Nu Image/Millennium Films
No MPAA rating, 90 minutes

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