There are two types of good movies. First, there is the movie that you enjoy while you watch it and then never really think about again — until you are flipping TV channels and come across it and think, “Oh yeah, this was good.” Second, there is the movie that you continue to ponder long after you watch it. The movie may stay with you for any number of reasons. Maybe a character reminded you of someone. Maybe the movie puzzled you in a good way. Maybe there was a scene you cannot stop thinking about.
The 2009 movie Solitary Man falls into the latter category for me. The movie features one of Michael Douglas’s great acting roles and is worth it for that alone. Douglas plays a womanizer and former car dealership owner who sees many of his bad decisions catch up to him. You may not like or admire the character, but he comes across as a real person, not a caricature, and you most likely will want to see what happens next.
Solitary Man has an excellent cast, including Susan Sarandon and Jesse Eisenberg (recently in The Social Network). The scenes between Douglas and Danny DeVito are excellent in a way that may only be possible when played by two old friends portraying two old friends. In the DVD extras, Jenna Fischer (who you might know from The Office) recalls how when she read the script before knowing the cast, she could only think of Michael Douglas in the lead role. Douglas does such a great job, there is only one other person I could imagine in the role. As he has aged, Douglas reminds me more and more of his father, Kirk Douglas, who I might also imagine here as Ben Kalmen.
[I am not giving away much about the ending, but if you plan to see the movie and do not want to know more about it, skip this paragraph.] The ending of Solitary Man is one reason I keep thinking about the film. The end is not an exciting explanation point, but more of a small question mark. I was reminded of a Tom Hanks movie where a lot of people did not like the ending, but I did. Here, the ending seemed perfect and true to the movie and the character. If you have seen Solitary Man, you may read more of a discussion of the ending in this interview with the writer/directors.
Like many movies in my Movies You Might Have Missed series, you should not watch Solitary Man expecting it to be one of the great movies of all time, but it is a small, entertaining, and thoughtful movie that you might enjoy. I’m surprised that the movie did not get the attention that it deserved. Some reviews at the time praised the movie as a smaller version of Douglas’s fine work as an aging English professor in Wonder Boys, because of some similarities between the characters. But the movies are very different, so you should not be expecting Wonder Boys II.
While Douglas’s Wonder Boys character had more of a slapstick element, Solitary Man seems more grounded in day-to-day reality. There are moments of humor, but Douglas creates a real character of flesh and blood. And, even though you may not admire the character, you will see flashes of humanity and real life here. And that is what creates movies you think about long after the screen goes dark.
Missed Movies is our series on very good movies that many people did not see when first released.