The Soloist appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Don’t expect any significant concerns in this solid presentation.
Sharpness worked well. Even the widest shots remained well-defined and rock solid, as no issues with softness marred the image. Jagged edges and shimmering failed to appear, and edge enhancement remained absent. Source flaws also didn’t become a factor, as the movie looked clean.
Colors seemed fine. The film tended toward a subdued palette that varied between earthy browns – especially in flashbacks – and chilly blue tone. Within those parameters, the hues appeared satisfying. Blacks were dark and dense, but shadows were a slightly weak link; low-light scenes usually appeared good, but a few appeared just a wee bit too opaque. Nonetheless, I thought the transfer impressed.
As for the Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of The Soloist, it satisfied. Given the movie’s emphasis on character, the soundfield didn’t boast a ton of opportunities to shine; for the most part, it stayed with general ambience. However, some sequences offered great involvement, especially when the flick put us inside Ayers’ troubled mind. Those elements added good information from the side and rear speakers and helped bring the piece to life.
Otherwise, the material remained more ordinary. That didn’t seem like a bad thing, though, as this kind of flick shouldn’t provide consistent whiz-bang audio. Music demonstrated nice stereo presence, and the use of environmental effects pleased.
Across the board, audio quality was positive. Speech sounded natural and distinctive, without edginess or other concerns. Music seemed warm and full, while effects worked well. Those elements came across as concise and accurate. Nothing here dazzled, but the track was good enough for a “B”.
As we head to the set’s extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director Joe Wright. He offers a running, screen-specific track that looks at cast and performances, story and characters, facts and liberties, sets and locations, music, visual design, and a few other production areas.
When he speaks, Wright tends to offer useful information. He covers a good array of subjects and presents a pleasant personality with flashes of dry wit. Unfortunately, Wright goes silent more often than I’d like. The gaps don’t tend to last very long, but they occur too frequently. Despite those, Wright gives us enough good content to make the commentary worthwhile.
A mix of featurettes follows. An Unlikely Friendship: Making The Soloist goes for 19 minutes, 37 seconds and includes remarks from Wright, producers Gary Foster and Russ Krasnoff, writer Steve Lopez, screenwriter Susannah Grant, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, production designer Sarah Greenwood, LAMP executive director Casey Horan, executive producer Patricia Whitcher, Midnight Mission Director of Recovery Services Orlando Ward, the real Nathaniel Ayers, cellist/music technical consultant Ben Hong, artist Sean Daly, LA Philharmonic president/CEO Deborah Borda, LA Philharmonic Director of Public Relations Adam Crane, and actors Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey, Jr., and Catherine Keener. The show looks at the project’s roots and development, the script and story, cast and performances, photography, production design and shooting in LA, working with the homeless, musical elements, and the flick’s ending.
I expect little from featurettes of this sort, but “Friendship” works pretty well. Though it goes by quickly, it covers a lot of good territory, and it does so in a satisfying manner. Some of the material about working with the homeless feels a bit self-congratulatory, but this still ends up as a good program.
Next comes the four-minute and 48-second Kindness, Courtesy and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez. It features Lopez, Ayers, and Nathaniel’s sister Jennifer, as they talk a little about their relationships and current situations. We don’t really learn much here, but it’s nice to see a little more of the real Nathaniel.
We learn a little more about social problems in One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in Los Angeles. The piece goes for nine minutes, 45 seconds and includes comments from Wright, Ward, Horan, Krasnoff, Grant, Lopez, Jennifer Ayers and Foster. We learn about the homeless issue in LA. It does tell us some interesting facts about the problem, but it usually feels more like a public service announcement than anything else. Still, if it helps bring support to the cause, that’s probably a good thing.
For more on the history behind the movie, we head to the four-minute and eight-second Juilliard: The Education of Nathaniel Ayers. It presents info from Foster as he talks a little about Nathaniel’s experiences. It’s less informative than I might expect, however, as Foster mostly just tells us that Juilliard is prestigious. Um, okay – that’s worth a four-minute featurette? Probably not.
Beth’s Story lasts two minutes as it provides a narrated, animated clip that illustrates how someone ends up homeless. It’s effective but still falls into the PSA category.
In addition to the movie’s trailer, we get five Deleted Scenes. These fill a total of nine minutes, 49 seconds and include “Hospital Questions” (1:24), “Audition” (1:16), “I’m No Good” (3:20), “Some Life” (1:16) and “I Want the Concert to Go On” (2:33). All are interesting but superfluous. “I’m No Good” probably makes the best claim for inclusion, as it shows more of Nathaniel’s youthful meltdown, but do we need more of that footage? No, and none of the other scenes seem like they’d be particularly helpful to the story either.
I expected cheesy melodrama from The Soloist, but I got a fairly satisfying character drama. The film boasts some nice performances and a tone that usually doesn’t take itself excessively seriously; all of that allows it to provide an involving tale. The Blu-ray features very good visuals, positive audio and a decent collection of supplements. This becomes a quality release for a surprisingly involving film.