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Douglas revives talent in 'Solitary Man'


All of Hollywood’s aging A-list stars are exploring films 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 the great Michael Douglas faces a midlife crisis—or in the 65-year-old actor’s case, a late-life crisis—in “Solitary Man.”

Douglas plays Ben Kalmen, a highly successful businessman in his day. A series of unwise money decisions has left him destitute and struggling to come up with the rent for his New York apartment.

His wife, played by Susan Sarandon, has left him after years of cheating. The strongest family ties Ben has are his daughter Susan, played by Jenna Fischer from “The Office,” and his grandson Scotty.

When in public, Ben insists Scotty not refer to him as “grandpa” because it could ruin his chances of picking up 30-year-old women.

Among the supporting ensemble, the best performances come from Fischer 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, including Mary-Louise Parker as Ben’s girlfriend and Sarandon as his ex-wife, are somewhat underwritten. Parker is such a charming and even underrated star. Needless to say that Sarandon is cinematic royalty. However, I wish there was a little more depth to their characters.

“Solitary Man” has so many supporting players that the screenplay doesn’t allow the proper amount of screen time for each of them. These include Imogen Poots as Parker’s daughter and Jesse Eisenberg as a college student to whom Ben offers guidance.

What elevates the movie is an exceptional performance from Douglas. After limiting himself to movies like “You, Me and Dupree” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” he returns with a role 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 less likable, making one terrible decision after another. But, at the same time, you can’t help but root for the bastard and hope he gets his life sorted out.

“Solitary Man” isn’t a great film, but it’s Douglas’ performance that adds another layer to the movie and makes it something more. If all the big summer blockbusters plaguing our theaters overwhelm you, you might enjoy escaping to a movie that’s likely to be seen by almost no one.

Reach the reporter at nspake@asu.edu


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