Robert Downey Jr has been only in my peripheral vision. I find him a great actor but rarely seek out his films as I do say-- those with John Cusack or Sean Penn; Clive Owen or Mathieu Almaric --to name some in his general age group, actors I adore.
But I had an amazing experience last night watching him in "The Soloist" a 2009 film with the great Jamie Foxx.
So much of what we feel about any film or book or even magazine article is, at least over here, affected by the mood we are in. So, I don't know if I would have loved this film if seen at another time; in another frame of mind. I'm like that with most things.
I was feeling porous and so this story moved right inside me. One reason why I trust subjective judements ( though yes I go to Rotten Tomatoes--to gather the collective subjective that are film reviews) is that I believe that for non-masterpieces, what films you love are often based on sensibility.
What struck me watching "The Soloist" where Downey plays a real life journalist, Steve Lopez from LA Times, and in that capacity is drawn to a street person, a talented , once hard-working musician who is also damaged by his long undiagnosed schizophrenia. What touched me was not Jamie Foxx who was good but clearly acting. No, I was riveted by how good Downey was, because he, of course, was acting as well and yet close to a story-line he once lived and I imagine knew all too well.
Downey is the lead, and is writing a piece about the Foxx character in the Hollywood created slums of LA-- sometime in the 80's or 90's.
What had me mesmerized, one of the best feelings in the world-- yes? no? was that my memory bank opened to the old headlines, also peripheral to me, of Downey's long struggle in and out of rehab, his time in prison (a full year I believe) and I remembered of him in a hotel with a loaded gun and tons of whatever hard stuff--cocaine, heroin, pillls etc--he was on.
I recall it as especially sad because it was a big holiday: Christmas probably. That seems not long ago to me, because I do recall feeling so sad for him, as he said that he'd been an addict since aged 8, given drugs by his dad.
I am not fact checking this story more than so, which means I don't know if his dad turned him into a junckie or not. But something compelled this fine & wonderful actor to fuck up and become addicted and suicidal over and over and over. At least a year in lockdown. Countless months in court mandated rehabs. I believe he's completely clean now, as I did read about his 2003 marriage and his keeping off the hard stuff-- finally! He sure looks great.
Yet even though he's cleaned up his act (one could say miraculously) and has a great gift for acting, what struck me was how he well might have known those homeless 'hoods in L.A. where at one point 100,000 were living in squalor--the addicts and the far-gone mentally ill-- making for many sad and/or scary scenes in this film.
Downey in this film has a fearless quality --while walking those dark, dangerous streets. I don't know how many here, if any, saw this film, but those thousands on the street were one miserable sight.
So what had me crying was that R. Downey Jr. had cleaned himself up but once --probably-- knew such places. Sure, he was always rich enough but he was as severely addicted as they come , and something in the way he moved into those homeless lives, touching not only the Jamie Foxx character but those many shown here, all in one life- threatening mess or another, made me feel so happy for him.
Happy also that he no doubt had once done community service as he is doing in this film, by helping others on the screen who cannot get it together. Because this is a true story, by making this film which at the end says that the journalist Downey plays helped to change the worst of LA laws, and more than that: How he was able to go back to where he once was, literally or metaphorically, now in health-- acting forthright and empathic to the max.
There seemed a subliminal (or obvious) backstory to who he once was and to others still dwelling in that hell. I was overcome with his courage, that he had blessedly left that life that is not easy to leave: life of addiction. Against great odd, right? I think so.
The Jami Foxx' character is a bit contrived, if well-executed. Foxx is playing a musical genius and though he is good, colorful and funny, you always know he is acting. Whereas Robert Downey Jr, not playing an addict but re-playing one who chooses to live among them, despite his blessedly new circumstances, this after a long, hideous time in his life--that made this film far more poignant , or that was true for me.
In the lead role, R.D. Jr, looks banged up but gorgeous, surrounded by world he was lived once inside. I was crying with happiness that this actor had finally dug himself out of the deadly muck of addiction. Against great odds.
It's there in the subtext as are all the roles he's played with drugs--thinking here of Richard Linkletter's "Scanners Darkly" which is so beautiful artistically but all about drugs. (Linkletter made "Waking Life" and if you have not seen it, it's a must see, the original way he has with his story but more with his o so original visual art. ) Downy did play an addict but back then one never knew if it was over for him in RL or still a part from his life.
Now it's not his life. How many who start out as an 8 year old addict overcome that? Very very few. Touching and beautiful. Really. Nothing like seeing redemption even as a sub-text on the screen.