Friday, October 15, 2010

A Solitary Man

Ben Kalmen is a hard-driven, successful middle-aged (okay, that's a bit of a stretch given Michael Douglas is 65) family man/car dealership owner having his yearly physical when the doctor gives him some news. What news? Well, maybe nothing, but the doctor wants to run some more tests.

Flash forward a few years. Kalmen's life is in ruins. He's lost all his car dealerships due to ethics issues. He's split from his wife. He's using his considerable charms to bed every hot chick he runs into. He's trying to stage a comeback, but—well, see the thing about bedding hot chicks, even when it compromises his ability to function otherwise.

This is the kind of movie that rests heavily on the performance of its lead, and Michael Douglas pulls it off amazingly. In real life, guys like this are pretty creepy. Kalmen is pretty creepy but Douglas' charisma and acting chops make him a palatable character somehow, even as he's trying to seduce women who are involved with his fractured family, women who are involved with guys he's supposed to be friends with, women who are the daughters of women he's bedded before...

He descends further and further, burning bridges, until he's down to working in a diner with stable, nice-guy college buddy Danny De Vito. Even there he can't escape his inclinations or the ramifications of his past acts.

The movie avoids pat answers and neat conclusions, threatening to tie the ending into the beginning, and leaving us to wonder whether Ben will get his act together or whether he'll just keep spiraling downward. The effectiveness of the movie is in that it feels very satisfying without doing these things.

Susan Sarandon provides solid backup as Kalmen's baffled wife, Mary-Louise Parker, Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Jenna Fischer and Richard Schiff round out the cast. Brian Kopelman directs his (with David Levien) script but this 2009 film never gained any traction last year.

Which is interesting. It has a truer ring and is a lot more intelligently written than most of what gets made, and Douglas' acting is stronger than ever. The Boy and The Old Man both approved, as did I—but its current IMDB rating is just 6.6.


  1. I caught a bit of this movie at the gym where I've been working out since last January. Did you get the feeling that it helped that Douglas had been a bit of a rake himself in his slightly younger days?

    Off topic but it bothers me slightly how pervasive the pirating of movies is these days, even here in SoCal. I recall watching Avatar in Russian with English subtitles weeks after its release. People think nothing of it.

  2. Yes, I did get the feeling that Douglas was drawing on personal experience.

    The distribution and reward system for movies is broken. The studios could fix it, but they won't.

  3. The studios could fix it, but they won't.

    How could the studios fix it?

    I'm not sure even people who watch pirated movies realize what they're doing.

  4. Maybe because Hollywood is tied to an old business model?

    How well would a first run Netflix streaming model work? maybe $25 a viewing first month or so?

    Or maybe a $50 a month dues to view any first run; $25 a month for any movie into its 4th week of run?

    There are still some movies I would see on the bigscreen, just for the experience. Some movies shot for the big screen just don't look right on the small one.

    Maybe the story is to big?


Grab an umbrella. Unleash hell. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. If swelling continues past four hours, consult a physician.