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Solitary Man DVD Review

Solitary Man movie poster Solitary Man

Theatrical Release: May 21, 2010 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: R

Directors: Brian Koppelman, David Levien / Writer: Brian Koppelman

Cast: Michael Douglas (Ben Kalmen), Susan Sarandon (Nancy Kalmen), Danny DeVito (Jimmy Marino), Mary-Louise Parker (Jordon Karsch), Jenna Fischer (Susan Porter), Imogen Poots (Allyson Karsch), Jesse Eisenberg (Daniel Cheston), Richard Schiff (Steve Heller), Jake Siciliano (Scotty), David Costabile (Gary Porter), Ben Shenkman (Peter Hartofillas), Anastasia Griffith (Carol Salomonde), Alex Kaluzhsky (Ted Loof), Simona Levin Williams (Nurse), James Colby (Sgt. John Haverford), Arthur Nascarella (Nascarella), Bruce Altman (Dr. Steinberg), Nick H. Toomey (Bill Rallye), Adam Pally (Irate Student), Lenny Venito (Todd the Building Manager), Doug McGrath (Dean Edward Gitleson); Uncredited: Olivia Thirlby (Maureen), Brooklyn Decker (Campus Walker)

Buy Solitary Man from Amazon.com: DVD Blu-ray

The critic's quote chosen to adorn the DVD cover of Solitary Man comes from Rex Reed, who calls it "the best work [Michael] Douglas has done since Wall Street and Wonder Boys." Temporally, that statement doesn't make much sense because those films are separated by thirteen years. But in another way, it fits, because aspects of those performances, two of Douglas' most signature, are recalled in his Solitary lead. Like Gordon Gekko, Ben Kalmen became a shrewd New York titan of industry whose lack of financial scruples was his undoing. Like Wonder Boys professor Grady Tripp, Ben can't seem to get away from college students.

Pushing sixty, Ben has some undetermined health problem, whose diagnosis and treatment he didn't pursue after an annual checkup EKG revealed irregularities. That was 6 years ago and the very possibility of life's clock winding down has had major implications for him, not physically but behaviorally.
Faced with their own mortality, some choose to start doing good things they put off. Ben is such a person, but the good things he now pursues with vigor are sexual encounters with any attractive female he sees. A smooth talker who frames intimacy as a business transaction, Ben does unbelievably well for a grandfather with a publicly sullied reputation and dwindling resources.

At the film's start, he is in a relationship with a wealthy Manhattan socialite (Mary-Louise Parker) to whom he's unfaithful. Just how unfaithful becomes clear when he reluctantly agrees to take her daughter (Imogen Poots) to his alma mater in Boston. The 18-year-old has an interview with the school, where Ben still carries clout as a major league donor (the library bears his name). Ben's actions on that weekend trip drain nearly any sympathy we can muster for him and they also eliminate his plan to open a new car dealership in a choice location.

Things are uncomfortable as Allyson (Imogen Poots) and Ben (Michael Douglas) begin their college visit at JFK Airport. From one sophomore to another, Ben (Michael Douglas) gives nerdy student Daniel Cheston (Jesse Eisenberg) tips for getting girls. Keep the spirit alive - high five!

With minimal career prospects, Ben reaches out to his hurt but sympathetic daughter (Jenna Fischer, "The Office") for a helping hand. When his recklessness wrecks that, he can think of just one friend to turn to, a diner owner named Jimmy (Danny DeVito) he hasn't seen in over thirty years. Swallowing his pride, Ben takes a job at Jimmy's diner and a guest room in his house. The new situation puts him right back on the college campus where life was so promising all those years ago.

Solitary Man feels like a movie that is designed to give an older actor a substantial chance to shine. Indeed, there's even been some Oscar talk regarding Douglas' performance, despite the fact that it was released to theaters nine months too early (or three months too late) to be a real contender. A problem lies in the casting; Michael Douglas is one of the biggest names among 60-year-old actors. That garnered attention for this little film that a lesser star wouldn't have. But it also robs one of Douglas' contemporaries of the comeback potential the part seems perfect for. Douglas doesn't really have anything to come back from. He's been working as steadily as he probably wants to be, and, with the exception of Harrison Ford in the latest Indiana Jones movie, not since Paul Newman in 1986's The Color of Money (Douglas' Best Actor Academy Award predecessor) has a sexagenarian's role reprisal been as newsworthy as Douglas' reunion with Oliver Stone in next month's Wall Street sequel.

That Douglas excels in the role of Ben Kalmen doesn't surprise. The ruined, lusty hedonist seems to have been written with him in mind and Douglas doesn't hit any notes you wouldn't expect. It's easy to call him the best thing about Solitary Man, but he really is the only thing and I say that not to exalt his performance but to criticize the film that houses it.

Ben's daughter (Jenna Fischer) grows less patient with his unreliability. With the rest of the world having abandoned him, Ben turns to his old college buddy Jimmy Marino (Danny DeVito), who offers a place to stay and the only menial job he's got.

It is co-directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the team that together penned Rounders, helmed Knockaround Guys, and created the ESPN poker drama "Tilt." In recent years, the pair seems to have been taken under the wing of Steven Soderbergh, for whom they wrote Ocean's Thirteen and The Girlfriend Experience. Soderbergh is one of four producers here.

In contrast to past Koppelman-Levien collaborations, Koppelman alone is credited as writer this time. He must take the lion's share of the blame then, because the screenplay fails the film more than its direction. The script is marked by excess tidiness and believability lapses at odds with the unhappy, realistic tone. A campus security guard on the scene exposits information on Ben's shady business practices.
A conversation about furniture becomes a neatly stinging metaphor for Ben's failed marriage. Ben casually appears at the quiet bar where every word of a douchey lacrosse quitter's regaling of his girlfriend's daughter is loud and clear. There are no ladder rungs in between auto entrepreneurship and college diner waiter for Ben to fall off of (a fact that's at least acknowledged). There are just too many contrivances like these that weaken this redemptive character study and make it tough to care for.

On the plus side, Douglas' supporting cast is more than game here. Each actor makes the most of limited screentime and unlike Douglas, they manage to reveal new sides of themselves. In addition to the aforementioned parts, the cast also includes Susan Sarandon as Ben's ex-wife and Jesse Eisenberg as a nerdy (the one exception to the film's against-type casting) college student easily impressed by Ben's techniques.

Despite the generally strong reviews earned, the film wasn't able to break out in limited release, grossing $4.3 million in under 200 theaters. That may be a far cry from profitability (Box Office Mojo lists the film's production budget at $15 M), but it was enough to make it the second highest-grossing release in the short history of young, growing acquisition distributor Anchor Bay Films. The studio brings Solitary Man to DVD and Blu-ray next week, three and a half months after its theatrical debut.

Buy Solitary Man on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: September 7, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $29.98)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($34.99 $19.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

There are no complaints to lob at the DVD's first-rate feature presentation. Nicely composed primarily with long wide shots, the film looks and sounds great in the disc's clean, polished 2.35:1 picture and sufficiently lively 5.1 soundtrack.

Co-director David Levien and writer/co-director Brian Koppelman talk about their movie in the DVD's featurette and more interesting audio commentary. For once a solitary man, Ben takes a look at a passerby played by an uncredited and largely unseen Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model Brooklyn Decker in the closing shot preserved on the DVD's main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Solitary Man is joined by three bonus features, the longest of which is an easily-missed audio commentary by writer/director Brian Koppelman, director David Levien, and Douglas McGrath, a writer/director of other movies (Emma, Nicholas Nickleby) who has a bit part in the film. It's an unusually good commentary that candidly covers many worthwhile topics.
Among them: clearing Johnny Cash's version of the titular Neil Diamond song, seasoned filmmakers like Soderbergh and Ethan Coen assisting in editing, filming in real New York locations that have meaning to them, Imogen Poots' flawless American accent, and directing a legend like Douglas. Fueling the speakers' enthusiasm is the new (to them) thrill of tight, low-budget filmmaking, from financing challenges and out-of-pocket costs to the rush of a 26-day shoot. This is an interesting listen for cinema fans, even those who aren't crazy about the film.

The featurette "Solitary Man: Alone in a Crowd" (11:45) gathers comments from cast and crew about working with one another and the characters portrayed. There are some interesting remarks (like DeVito comparing his and Douglas' real-life friendship to the one they depict in the film), but the piece remains a little more superficial than one expects of an independent film making-of.

Last but maybe not least is Solitary Man's theatrical trailer (2:30), a nice and appropriate inclusion.

"Also on DVD" supplies individual access to the three trailers that play automatically at the head of the disc for City Island, After.Life, and Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema, plus two additional trailers for Beyond a Resonable Doubt and Abandoned.

Solitary Man is packaged in an interesting-feeling cardboard slipcover that alternates textures. Inside the Eco-Box keepcase, an insert promotes the aforementioned Beyond and in a rare bit of interstudio promotion, Fox's concurrent Insider Trading Edition of Douglas' Wall Street.

Employing many of the same clips as the trailer, the main menu montage runs in full 2.35:1 with listings and a title placed over it in electric blue. Submenus are static and silent.

This solitary man in black (Michael Douglas) tries to look cool for a nearby blonde as he meets up with his family. Don't call him Grandpa!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Michael Douglas doesn't turn over any new leaves as the despicable creep of Solitary Man. The longtime actor could pull this part off in his sleep and while he doesn't sleepwalk through this film, he doesn't take us to places that make the comeuppance of his unsympathetic antihero gratifying. Between the great feature presentation and atypically engaging audio commentary, the DVD doesn't disappoint, but the movie isn't a must-see.

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Related Reviews:
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Michael Douglas: Wall Street (20th Anniversary Edition) Ghosts of Girlfriends Past Napoleon and Samantha
A Serious Man A Single Man Smart People Chloe | Written by Brian Koppelman: Ocean's Thirteen
Smart People Greenberg Back to School Venus Everybody's Fine New York, I Love You
Susan Sarandon: Middle of Nowhere Enchanted Shall We Dance? (2004) In the Valley of Elah
Mary-Louise Parker: The Spiderwick Chronicles | Jenna Fischer: Blades of Glory
Imogen Poots: 28 Weeks Later | Jesse Eisenberg: Adventureland Zombieland The Village
Danny DeVito: John Grisham's The Rainmaker Deck the Halls When in Rome Hercules

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Reviewed August 31, 2010.



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