It is interesting that Michael Douglas plays the lead in “Solitary Man” not long before he reprises his iconic “Greed is good” role of Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street 2.” In “Solitary Man” Douglas plays Ben Kalmen, an unrepentant, aging lothario whose life is in a downward spiral. We learn from his back story that Kalmen was once a mini-Gekko/Madoff of sorts in the car business but that he has paid his debt to society, much as we saw Gekko go to jail at the end of the first “Wall Street” for his stock market shenanigans.
“Solitary Man” is a slow motion train wreck, head-on-collision, in which middle aged angst collides with our bad economy. It is also a convincing look at a character who, for the most part, is not likeable. Kalmen shows incredible bad judgment in how he handles his affairs. He is one of Manhattan’s elite who has hit the skids. We watch him continue to make one bad choice after another, at times humorously so, in both his personal and business lives, which are intertwined. It is not until the film’s end that we get the full explanation for Kalmen’s behavior which is believable if maybe a bit simplistic.
While he does not deserve it I found myself at points sympathetic to Kalmen as he sank lower and lower, becoming more and more strapped for cash. Although Kalmen’s problems are certainly of his own making I saw qualities in his situation very reminiscent of the type of circumstances in which so many find themselves today.
Douglas plays Kalmen with just the right amount of tempered “How the mighty have fallen” pride and arrogance regardless of whether he thinks he is on top of his game or has just been put in his place by someone less than half his age. The latter happens to him so many times that after a while you just want Kalmen to quit while he is behind.
The supporting cast is very good. I especially liked Jenna Fischer as Susan, Kalmen’s put upon daughter. Kalmen has manipulated Susan for some time and she wants to break free of him. She is torn between negotiating a relationship with a father who is dependent, immature, unreliable and her love for him. The film also features Susan Sarandon as Kalmen’s ex-wife and Mary Louise Parker as Kalmen’s girlfriend, both of whom are very good. Imogen Poots plays the young, spoiled, temptress/upper crust spawn who is at the root of Kalmen’s current trouble.
Jesse Eisenberg plays what by this point deserves official classification as “The Jesse Eisenberg” role and plays it flawlessly. Specifically he is the nebbishy, hangdog, quietly attractive kid who would like to be with the good looking girls but needs coaching. It is essentially the same part Eisenberg played in “Rodger Dodger” (2002) and not too far off the mark from his character in “Adventureland” (2009). In fact his relationship with Michael Douglas, that of the younger man being advised by the older man, is very similar to the relationship Eisenberg’s character had with Campbell Scott’s character in “Rodger Dodger,” although there it was a central part of the film and here it is a sub plot.
While I liked “Solitary Man” it may not be for audience members who want an escape from the bad times, but who knows? For some it may provide a catharsis of sorts.
“Solitary Man” opens on May 21.
“Solitary Man,” directors Brian Koppelman, David Levien, 2010,
Milennium Films, 90 minutes, Rated R