Solitary Man boasts Michael Douglas's best performance
Starring Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, and Danny DeVito. Rated PG. Opens Friday, July 23, at the Cinemark Tinseltown
Michael Douglas delivers the performance of his career in Solitary Man—even if the role is an encapsulation of the other despicably greedy characters that Kirk’s boy has been playing since the late 1980s.
Watch the trailer for Solitary Man.
Here, he takes over the screen as Ben Kalmen, a former big-shot car dealer fallen on hard times since being caught in a reputation-killing scam. The Neil Diamond title song is performed by broken-voiced Johnny Cash over steamy Manhattan street scenes, so we know that things will only get worse. Indeed, we are immediately informed—as the others in his life are not—that Ben needs medical tests to determine just how dodgy his heart might be.
No EKG is required to confirm that iffiness for his chipper ex-wife (Susan Sarandon) and long-suffering daughter (Jenna Fischer). But this silk-suited shark’s emotional arrhythmia has yet to affect his current girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker), who is sufficiently well-connected to help him get previously impossible financing for a new BMW dealership. Even so, maybe it wasn’t the best idea for her to send him up to his Boston alma mater with her teenage daughter (Imogen Poots), trying to get her into an Ivy League college.
While on campus, he schools a nebbishy sophomore (Jesse Eisenberg—who else?) and reconnects with a left-behind buddy (nicely underplayed by Danny DeVito) who represents the small-town persona Ben is still working overtime to obscure. Any number of tartly written scenes, courtesy of codirectors Bran Koppelman and David Levien, could serve as master classes for Inside the Actors Studio. The only problem is that Douglas dominates the breezy proceedings so effortlessly that you start to wonder if the other performers are just there as window-dressing for an outsized ego enjoying its own flagellation a little too much.