It has been a while since I saw Michael Douglas in anything, and that was King of California in 2007. Granted, he has only been in a select few films in recent years. There is something off-putting about him as an actor. It might be that he presents too much of an ego with his public persona. Or maybe I only see him as the husband of Catherine Zeta-Jones. His greatest career triumphs were when I was quite young (Wall Street and Fatal Attaction in 1987, Basic Instinct in 1992) and I though I have seen him in Traffic (2000), Wonder Boys (2000), and Don't Say A Word (2001) I fail to see the allure that won him an Academy Award for Best Actor for Wall Street. His father, Kirk Douglas, was one of the most celebrated actors of Hollywood's Golden Age. I approached Solitary Man with some hesitation, though it offers a great cast, and frankly I was worried Michael Douglas was going to be playing just another womanizer. I was half right. His character often lacks decent respect for women but the film itself does hit the right notes most of the time. Michael Douglas is the the best that I have seen him in this film and he has a good supporting cast (though I was very disappointed in Mary-Louise Parker, whose performance on Weeds in the past two seasons has become lackluster). Solitary Man does not offer any fresh ideas but it is a film with a solid story that is well-paced and acted.
Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) used to be one of the most wealthiest and most respected car dealers in New York. The opening scene of the film, set at a doctor's office six and a half years in the past, shows us that Ben may have heart problems. In the present Ben has lost his wife Nancy (Susan Sarandon) and has a strained relationship with his adult daughter Susan (Jenna Fischer). He has also lost his career because of some disastrous choices and is in financial ruin. His current girlfriend Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker) has a very wealthy father and Ben hopes to regain his career with the help of her father's connections. Ben has agreed to go with Jordan and her teenage daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots) to Allyson's college interview in Boston because he has a relationship with the dean. His life continues to unravel when Jordan is unable to go and he is left alone with Allyson. Ben makes a few wrong decisions and soon finds himself alone and without any money. He returns to Boston and reunites with Jimmy (Danny DeVito), an old friend, and develops a friendship with a young college student, Daniel Cheston (Jesse Eisenberg). Ben's life seems to be getting back on track but his past egotistical behaviour eventually threatens his life.
The more I think about Solitary Man the more I wish Ben's relationship with his wife was better established on screen. Susan Sarandon is a fantastic actress and she works well against Michael Douglas, but I feel that the film's conclusion would have been more satisfying if Nancy had been a multi-dimensional character. It was nice to see Jenna Fischer outside of The Office, even if she looked and acted exactly the same. Michael Douglas has rightly been praised for his performance. Ben Kalmen is a loathsome man and yet Michael Douglas makes him a sympathetic character. I worry that Michael Douglas' performance may go overlooked because his character in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps seems very similar, at least on the surface. Gordon Gekko, like Ben Kalmen, is an aging man with a neglected daughter who is trying to reestablish his career. Michael Douglas is being typecast as an egotistical womanizer and it would be great to see him in a drastically different role. According to both IMDB and Wikipedia he is going to be playing Liberace in an upcoming film. I am not sure how well that will turn out.
My rating: 3 stars out of 4.