It feels like all of Hollywood’s A-list aging stars are exploring movies centered on flawed men seeking redemption and purpose nowadays. Consider Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler,” Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart,” George Clooney in “Up in the Air,” and Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino. ”
Now, Michael Douglas faces a mid-life crisis, or I suppose in the 65-year-old actor’s case a late-life crisis, in Solitary Man.
Douglas plays Ben Kalmen, who was a highly successful businessman in his day. A series of unwise money decisions has left him destitute, struggling to come up with rent for his New York apartment. His wife, played by Susan Sarandon, has left him after years of cheating. The strongest family tie Ben has is with his daughter, played by Jenna Fischer from The Office, and his grandson Scotty. When in public though, Ben insists that Scotty not refer to him as “grandpa” for it will ruin his chances of picking up 30-year-old women.
Among the supporting ensemble, the best performances come from Fisher as a woman who wants a relationship with her father but feels he’s becoming a bad influence for her son, and Danny DeVito as Ben’s college buddy who wants to help his old friend get back on track. Some of the other characters, though, including Mary-Louise Parker as Ben’s girlfriend and Sarandon are somewhat underwritten. Parker is such a charming and underrated star. Sarandon is cinematic royalty, however, I wish there was a little more depth to her character. Solitary Man has so many supporting players, which also includes Imogen Poots as Parker’s daughter and Jesse Eisenberg as a college student who Ben offers guidance. The screenplay doesn’t allow the proper amount of screen time for each of them.
What elevates the movie is an exceptional performance from Douglas. After limiting himself to movies like “You, Me and Dupree” for nearly a decade, Douglas returns with a role that’s well worth his talent. Ben Kalmen is one of the most complex and questionable characters to emerge this year. As the film progresses this shallow womanizer becomes progressively unlikable with one terrible decision after another. But at the same time you can’t help but root for him and hope he’ll get his life sorted out.
Solitary Man isn’t a great film. We get a lot of typical mid-life crisis scenarios that have been done before, such as when Ben oversleeps and misses his grandson’s birthday party. But it’s Douglas’ performance that adds another layer to the film and makes it something more. If you are overwhelmed by all the big summer blockbusters plaguing theaters, you might enjoy escaping to a movie that’s likely to be seen by virtually no one.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past five years, reviewing movies on his website, http://www.freewebs.com/radman_ns. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.