Hollywood, CA — “The Soloist” is superb. Oscar winner Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) and Oscar nominee Robert Downey, Jr. (“Tropic Thunder”) hand in two excellent performances that demonstrate the passion and love the two have for their craft.

Directed by Academy Award nominated Joe Wright (“Atonement”), “The Soloist” is based on a true story that takes place in our very own Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. No doubt many of us may have seen Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx) on the streets or under bridges as we made our way through downtown L.A. and past the outskirts of Skid Row. Many of us seeing but not seeing, and quietly moving on with our lives.

L.A. Times Columnist Steve Lopez (Downey) often writes about life in L.A., its ‘slice of life’ wonders and oddities, a popular writer who, in the film finds himself in a very dark place. And it’s in that dark place, where Lopez contemplates his life as it is when he suddenly hears a remarkable sound that comes from an even more remarkable man.

Lopez being a writer looked at Ayers as just another story in this city of millions of stories but this time something happened. As he begins to unearth the mystery of how this alternately brilliant and distracted street musician, once a dynamic prodigy headed for fame, wound up living in tunnels and doorways, his research opened Lopez up to a world of passion, determination and schizophrenia.

Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. connect on the screen, and to do that these performers admitted they had to go very, very deep into those dark places within to create such masterful performances.

As in “Ray” Foxx takes on the whole character of Ayers, transforming himself into a puffy, red-eyed man that mumbles to himself and shuffles as he walks toting his worldly possessions. Foxx is mesmerizing as he dips into madness to reflect the true confusion, pain, and determination his character embodies.

Downey on the other hand must relate the frustration, aggravation and confusion that takes over a man’s soul when he’s trying to help someone who may not want his help, a person who sees life from a different point of view that goes beyond all rationality, and to add insult to injury, Downey’s character is trying to clean up his own mess.

It takes some fine acting to pull these roles off and that’s just what you get in the “The Soloist.”
From Foxx’s outburst of anger that gives Downey’s character a sound beating to Downey’s heartbreak and confusion that sometimes is only expressed in his eyes, you begin to feel every emotion and to know these guys are Oscar contenders.

Los Angeles’ skid row and the people who inhabit the densely populated area are front and center in this film. We also get a terrifying peak at the heartbreak and destruction schizophrenia can cause in ones life. The film is not exploitive, but gives an honest if not restrained look at life and reality on skid row. Many of the skid row characters are real and yes, they were paid for their work. The camera reveals the love, and beauty these forgotten individuals harbor in their hearts.
Hopefully this film will encourage us to do more to support organizations that have made a point to help the forgotten men, women and children living on the skid row.

Once Lopez and Ayers connect we see the transformation that takes place in each of their lives.
For Lopez, in the film he’s estranged from his wife, whom he happens to work with in the world of print journalism that’s loosing ground fast because of the internet. He’s forced to reassess his life and cling to what is really important. Ayers’ decision to stop taking his meds so he can play his music the way he sees fit and to live on the streets forces him to make other choices that could change his life a little or a lot. Both men begin to look to each other for friendship, support and a very special kind of love that helps define their lives for maybe, forever.

“The Soloist” is an outstanding film. It’s a ‘must see, must experience’ film, in theaters Friday.

– Gail Choice can be reached at gailchoice@strictlyhollywood.com.