Michael Douglas has nothing to fear, so he’s perfectly willing to play a role other actors might run away from: a 60-ish New Yorker who’s a complete and utter louse. Once he married his college sweetheart and owned a string of car dealerships; now all he’s got left is his gift of gab, which can still win over almost any woman, young or old. But without a moral compass, he makes one bad decision after another, causing his personal and professional life to crumble…and he has no one to blame but himself.
Such a character could be completely repellent, if he existed in a glum, two-dimensional movie. But Brian Koppelman’s lively screenplay for Solitary Man (which he directed with David Levien) keeps us—
—wondering what’s going to happen next, and how his protagonist is going to survive yet another bad move. He is brought to life with believable bravado by Douglas, in one of his richest performances.
What’s more, the movie is filled with interesting, contradictory characters—people you might actually encounter in real life, if not very often in the movies. I’m reluctant to discuss them in detail because I will spoil your sense of discovery. Let’s just say I don’t remember another nerdy college student quite like the one played here by Jesse Eisenberg, whom Douglas briefly takes under his wing, or an old buddy like Douglas’ pal Danny DeVito, who never left the college town where he still runs a greasy spoon. In a superficial Hollywood movie, Eisenberg would be a stock movie nerd and DeVito would be a sappy, nostalgic friend, but this film doesn’t trade in stereotypes. That’s what makes it so fresh and satisfying. The cast is well-chosen, right down the line: Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer, Imogen Poots, Richard Schiff, Ben Shenkman, and Anastasia Griffith. Kudos to all of them, and to Koppelman and Levien for creating a film that, like the people in it, defies pigeonholing.