Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Solitary Man

Film #320


A car magnate watches his personal and professional life hit the skids because of his business and romantic indiscretions.

Year 1, Day 324

BEFORE: Number two for the day is Solitary Man, a film I’m less familiar with going into it. But a brief glance at the critical reaction shows that it was generally well-received with star Michael Douglas’ (last seen in Traffic) getting special attention.

AFTER: Subtlety can be both beneficial and detrimental to a film. And when I say subtlety, I don’t mean ambiguity - at least for the purposes of Solitary Man those two words are different. In this film, character and story developments alike aren’t very straightforward but rather they’re slowly unfolding throughout the film. When I talk about examples this may seem a little backwards, but it makes sense and you’ll see how it helps the film. The other form of subtlety is a more personal one. While I very much enjoyed this film and there isn’t one big example I can point to, there’s a smaller and more hidden feeling behind the film that makes me pause a moment.

First, those subtle developments. I’ll start right off with an example. Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) is an aging car salesman who, after finding out he may have heart problems, goes into a sort of mid-life crisis and destroys his whole life. He loses his business, his family, his money. Everything is gone. Very subtle, right? Before I explain I’ll also mention the scene between Kalmen and his new girlfriend’s daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots). While taking her on a college tour and interview, the two sleep together which in turn, unsurprisingly, creates tension and awkwardness back home. The result is Allyson freaks out, tells her mother, and Kalmen’s life once again takes a turn for the worse. Now all of this probably seems like major events that are exaggerated to draw attention to them. They are, but the appeal to these examples, and likewise to the film itself, is what’s not so obvious. The smaller things like Kalmen’s eyes moving and other behavioral ticks, his skill with words, and his ability to describe a person’s life just by looking at them from afar. These all contribute to those obvious goings-on but they draw your attention closer. It connects you on a deeper level with these characters because you’re able to look inside their minds; predict what they’re going to do before they do it, all because of the signs and clues they’re giving away through subtle gestures. The epitome of all this being the final shot where all Ben Kalmen does is sit on a bench. Very simple, very minimal. And yet it packs a powerful punch and a great ending to the film.

Despite all this wonderful developmental stuff thought, I wasn’t fully enthralled by Solitary Man. Something just felt off about it and while I can’t identify one specific moment (as I’ve done with all films like this in the past), I do think I can describe the overarching reason. As much as I liked Kalmen’s character and how Douglas portrayed him, it seemed like we were supposed to know more information than we did. Again, this is where I can’t cite any examples of what exactly I thought should have been better explained through background and exposition, but it’s as if we are missing a chapter in the life of Ben Kalmen. We know he cheated on his wife and multiple subsequent girlfriends, we know he scammed customers in his business, and we know that despite wanting to love him, his daughter Susan (Jenna Fischer) resists all calls to realize that her father is an unreliable person.

When it comes right down to it, Solitary Man was a great ninety minutes worth of drama. I know this was supposed to be continuing with the comedy theme, but what was I to know, I was just listening to IMDb. It’s what I would say is a great film but is just missing that little something special to make it undeniably great.

RATING: 4 out of 5