"I've never loved anything the way that he loves music!"
Robert Downey Jr. returns with yet another great acting role to add to his resume, this time playing a journalist for the L.A. Times that doesn't seem to care about what story he reports on, even it isn't newsworthy, given that there doesn't seem to be anything newsworthy to report on anymore, to him anyway. For he seems too bored with the average stuff he features in his column. Plus having to hang coyote urine from his trees to keep raccoons away that've been tearing up the neighborhood lawns isn't helping his situation. With that, Robert brings his usual sarcastic humor that's in about all of his roles, but when hearing the amazing violin music of Nathaniel Ayers, he shifts his focus on helping him out, rather than himself. And along the way he makes as many accomplishments as mistakes, but they seem to balance out by the film's end.
Throughout the movie you question if he's doing this to exploit Nathaniel's musical skills to credit himself for 'discovering' him, if he could take it that far, which he tries to, or if he's doing it to truly help get Nathaniel's life back on track, which he seems to be. The conclusion I drew was that it was a balance between the two, as it's not hard to fathom that trying to exploit Nathaniel's talents would be the mistake, while truly helping him out by being his friend is the accomplishment. Overall, a great acting role for Robert Downey Jr. that fans of his cannot miss.
Jamie Foxx is simply phenomenal in his performance as Nathaniel Ayers, who talks a mile a minute, finishes every solo piece he begins before responding to any interruption, idolizes Ludwig Van Beethoven, and has a simple point of view of the world where kindness reigns supreme, followed closely by cleanliness. While the story isn't told through his eyes, you still get everything you need to know out of his character through Jamie's performance.
Throughout the movie Nathaniel has flashbacks of his childhood, and how his love for music alienated him from the rest of his family, and unfortunately, was enhanced when his schizophrenia left him with nothing else to do but focus on his music. He idolizes Steve for giving him a Cello, but doesn't like being forced to play it at the LAMP Community Center in a large homeless area rather than on the side of a busy street where Steve thinks it too dangerous for Nathaniel to hangout, which is certainly true when he runs into the middle of rush hour traffic to retrieve a tossed cigarette that's littering the road. All that considered, it was mainly the expressions that Jamie had when playing the Violin & Cello that won me over, as you can tell that he's really involved in his element, and could careless about anything else around him...except for the safety of his shopping cart, which is everything to him, given that he and Steve run with it to an orchestra to catch a performance rather than leave it at LAMP. And if you weren't a Jamie Foxx fan prior to this, like I wasn't that much of one, then you'll definitely be one now.
Tom Hollander plays Philharmonic Cellist Graham Claydon whom Steve hires to give music lessons to Nathaniel to ensure that he's still up to par after 33yrs of not having lessons, but Claydon's amazement at Nathaniel's skill leaves him to wanting to get Nathaniel to play before an audience, which may not be the best decision, but more so, a step in the wrong direction.
Catherine Keener plays the ex-wife of Steve Lopez, and is the editor of the L.A. Times. Her role is minimal, and provides little to the story.
Nelson Ellis plays David, a worker at the LAMP Community Center who seems to know that the best thing Nathaniel has going for him is a friend, and just implies that Steve shouldn't exploit him for his talent, rather than saying it directly to his face. Overall, he's the voice of reason in the movie, as he's constantly thinking about what's going on directly outside LAMP's doors...
...Such as, in a sequence that takes place outside the LAMP Community Center, a homeless man is reported to have been beaten bloody by some teenagers, and when the cops arrive to sort the mess out, they begin making a series of pointless arrests for shopping cart thefts and similar things that they could careless about, simply because they're too pre-occupied with juking the stats. And if you don't know what that means, it essentially is when the cops recognize that with such a location as L.A. where you're likely to not have many solved crimes, that are great in number, that therefore, in order for police to make their overall crime clearance percentage look better by year's end, they make a series of pointless arrests over petty issues that's a waste of good police work, all so they can get less pressure from their superiors at year's end for not having a better clearance rate percentage than the year before. So it's not lying, but it's just simple issues that they can boost their stats over every day. But the catch is, they don't do it everyday, and only do so when they're in danger of not meeting the year's demanded clearance rate. Because if they did do it every day, the crime rate would soar to unforseen heights. In this film, in such a cluttered area where this homeless community lives among drugs, rats and petty theft, the police know their shift commander is gonna grill them for not jumping on such a situation before such a terrible beating would be able to occur, even though the shift commander could careless about it, but their superiors will because they want to impress their superiors all the way up to the mayor's office, and therefore, rather than only bringing in the guilty teenagers, they make a series of pointless arrests to boost their clearance rate for 'crimes' in the area, thus impressing the shift commander, and making the overall annual clearance rate percentage improve, but over meaningless arrests, rather than over real crimes. And when they go and present their final report on the situation, they are credited for 'discovering' a new problem in the city. It's depressing, but hey, it's reality. And that's why you need people like David serving that community in the ways that he does. For it's a reminder that while you're already homeless, you gotta worry about this petty stuff coming down on you when we used to have the respect to let the homeless live their way, but no, apparently it's not bad enough to be homeless anymore, but you gotta have the cops breathing down your neck too. It is in this sequence that the visuals really shine brightest as you believe that this whole setting is real, as it is in reality, and it couldn't look much more disarrayed than it already is, which catches Steve Lopez off guard since he didn't know why Nathaniel didn't want to go LAMP, but figures it out upon his arrival.
The music that Nathaniel plays was actually performed by Philharmonic Cellist Ben Hong, who did an amazing job at making this musical score the best it can be. And the numerous long pieces of music in the movie is perfect. If you're not one to buy film soudtracks, then you'll probably be swayed to want this one.
Overall, this is an amazing film that you cannot miss, but being based on a true story written in a book by the real Steve Lopez, it was rather anti-climatic, and the ending rather sudden as it seemed that things were going sour, but suddenly changed a little more, which cuts my overall rating slightly, as well as the director's rating for ending it like he did. For while the film was excellent, I'm sure the book is even better. Nevertheless, it still is an inspirational story that's a must see whenever you get the chance. If not for the story, then the acting, and definitely for the most memorable element...the music.