The accomplished Mr. Douglas creates a narcissistic cad

Solitary Man

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            "It's a story about the power of charm and how a truly charming man can get away with so much behavior for such an incredibly long time, until it starts becoming really corrosive from the inside out." So says writer/director Brian Koppelman of his new film "Solitary Man." Unfortunately, Mr. Koppelman is looking at his own work through rose colored glasses.

            The solitary man of the title is Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas), and he has not one ounce of the charm or wit or personal appeal that would have made this movie work. In the opening scene Ben is advised by his doctor that he has serious heart trouble. His reaction to the diagnosis is to redouble his already prodigious efforts to bed every young woman who catches his eye. This 60-something man targets, among many others, Allyson (Imogen Poots) the 18 year old freshman daughter of his girl friend Jordan (Mary Louise Parker) , Susan (Jenna Fischer), the good friend of his own daughter, and various anonymous party girls.

            The fact that Allyson toys with Ben and then tosses him away may be his just reward, but there is a whole zone of discomfort here that has to do not only with the 40 year age difference but with some really off center perceptions on the part of writer/director Koppelman. He tells us several times during the film that Ben was on the cover of Forbes, and that he had built his car dealership and the resulting fortune into a position of New York icon. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. The network of iconic New Yorkers includes lawyers, investment bankers, venture capitalists, civic leaders, and artists, some of it admirable, some corrupt. But even rich car dealers don't make the cut.

            With that bad choice of occupation, Michael Douglas's Ben is doomed. The accomplished Mr. Douglas creates a narcissistic cad, the adult version of a controlling, conniving middle school bully. For some unfathomable reason, he feels he exudes the power and charm that women will find irresistible. Are we supposed to root for this guy who steps unheedingly on the lives of everyone around him?

            The good news: the supporting cast is excellent, especially British actor Imogen Poots who exacts adult revenge, Jenna Fischer as Ben's beleaguered daughter, and Susan Sarandon as his ex-wife. Credit Jesse Eisenberg ("The Squid and the Whale) with a fine portrayal of a college boy with a value system and Mary Louise Parker as the rich New Yorker who has no values at all. The problem here is not so much Michael Douglas the actor - though the role calls for a man in his 50s - it is with the material he must deal with - an improbable, make that impossible, premise. Ben was a loser even before his own business scandal knocked him from his perch. A man with no redeeming features is not a likely candidate for redemption.


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