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Solitary Man

Michael Douglas in a fantastic role about a man who has to put it all back together.

Perhaps no other actor in the modern era has been able to slip into the skin of morally conflicted characters as well as Michael Douglas. Granted, he was kicking around Hollywood for nearly 20 years before his back-to-back breakthrough to mega-stardom in 1987 with Fatal Attraction and Wall Street, but he’s never looked back—nearly always portraying characters with real conflicts in dilemmas that spoke to the hottest issues of the day in films like Falling Down, War of the Roses and Disclosure.

But the past decade has been unkind to Douglas at the box office, as he’s appeared in a string of ambitious yet arty films that have barely seen release, while being criminally ignored for an Oscar on 2000’s superb and highly underrated film Wonder Boys. This fall could see a big turnaround for him when the sequel to Wall Street comes out, with Douglas reprising his Oscar-winning turn as ruthless financial trader Gordon Gekko in a film that’s already caused a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival.

In the meantime, catch him while you can in the terrific new character-based dramedy Solitary Man, in which Douglas plays a downtrodden car salesman named Ben Kalmen, who’s turning 60 while his world is tumbling down around him. He had been ethically upright and successful in his business and his marriage until a doctor warned him six years ago that his heart might have serious problems.

Rather than undergoing the proper tests and treatment, Kalmen decided to get reckless with his life, setting up numerous financial scams at his mega-lots and cheating on his wife (played by Susan Sarandon) at every turn. After a prison stint for fraud, he’s lost everything and is reduced to borrowing rent money from his own daughter (Jenna Fischer), is having one-night stands with his daughter’s friends, not to mention the 18-year-old daughter of his girlfriend (Mary Louise Parker).

Only when Ben screws up so badly that his daughter won’t let him see his grandson again does Ben make the effort to get his life together. He returns to the small college town that he vowed never to revisit and settles in to live and work with an old buddy (Danny Devito) who never rose above running a popular student restaurant.

Will humility teach Ben a lesson? Can he restore a sense of dignity and order to his life? Will he continue his reckless ways as a solitary man or seek out lifelines from the friends and family around him?

Refreshingly, the Solitary writer-director team of Brian Koppleman and David Levien (Rounders, Oceans Thirteen) are smart enough to know that life doesn’t always have easy answers to such morally complex questions. They also realize that for intelligent audiences, the constant element of surprise and the willingness to show characters fighting their way through the gray areas of life can be richly rewarding in themselves.

There isn’t a moment that rings false in Solitary Man, while the film also offers plenty of truths that can give any viewer plenty to consider about their own lives. In expertly portraying Ben Kalmen’s deeply conflicted soul, Michael Douglas may not yet have won the Oscar for this year’s Best Actor, but he certainly deserves to be among the nominees in waiting next March.



Bruce reviewed…

I gotta say, and im a 18 year old guy who's nice and open minded. That said theres no amount of "Redepmtion story" in this that would make me ever wanna watch it. You can't make your main role THAT much of a scum bag. I mean a strung out meth heads one thing, but the guy takes advantage of girls. Hes like 1 a step above rapist. Come on relevent Mag I really liked you guys, shore up this ship a little and show some class.


Dan reviewed…

I'm a 32 year old male who became a Christian when I was 25 and I have to agree with Bruce on this one. This character's story may wind up redemptive in nature (all though we don't know for sure based on what the article states) but I go back to the Biblical principle that some things may be permissable but not beneficial. There are plenty of stories out there about redemption that don't involve extra-marital affairs or lascivious relationships with young women. Just because an actor puts together a great performance (in whose opinion?) doesn't mean we as Christians need to jump on the bandwagon and sing the praises of it and justify it because of its "redemptive" qualities.

David Roark


David Roark reviewed…

I find it absolutely sad that you guys, as Christians, would so quickly criticize Douglas' character in Solitary Man. Sure he's a character in a film, but there are tons of people in this world who are just like him, living reckless, sinful lives, taking advantage of women, and much worse.

So if a filmmaker decides to make a movie about people like this and how they are redeemed, we're supposed to be opposed to it? Shouldn't we be thrilled and joyful in the life change? A redemption story involving extra-marital affairs and lascivious relationships is all the more powerful then say, some story about a guy who lives a pretty straight and narrow life, because it's reality. What a powerful testimony that is.

Last, you guys might want to check your bibles for redemptive stories--there are quite a few involving way worse behavior than that of Douglas' character. Did you forget about David? The guy slept with another man's wife, got her pregnant, and murdered the man. Should we avoid this story, too? It involves an extra-marital affair and lascivious relationships.

It would be a different story if this film portrayed such immoral behavior as acceptable, okay or good, but it doesn't at all. That's why it's a story of redemption. It's about a journey out of that mess--that hell.

I'm thankful for committed Christians like you guys, who take following Christ seriously, and I'm glad you've taken the time to open up dialogue about this subject; however, I believe you should reconsider some of your thoughts this time around.


Bruce reviewed…

I cant rightfuly compair even the evil David in the bible did to this man, the key issue (for me, and I don't feel incorrct makeing this the focus of my point) Is his taking advantage of a young woman in a vonerable state. Im NOT a condemtnation centerd guy, I respect and fear God but also Im fully aware and alive in the fact that he is loving and merciful. But when reading about this acting roll the only verse that comes to mind is "It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin." Luke 17:2. I would love this man in life and have love'd men of like dispostion but I don't belive that it should be brought out so exspressivly in a seculer film that dosn't have the moral fiber to really treat it the way I feel God would want it to be handeld. And by supporting that I can only thinkwere supporting the mishandeling of a very imporatant and painful subject.


Dan reviewed…

David, I appreciate your point. The more general point I was trying to make was in the entertainment choices we as Christians make. I'm sure Michael Douglas' performance is great and maybe in this film the character does get what some might consider a comeuppance but the point I was trying to argue is that despite that maybe as Christians we should reconsider what we consider "good" or "great" entertainment.
I never intended to make the point that we should ignore redemption stories because of their subject matter. That would be pretty hypocritical of me, as I mentioned I didn't become a follower of Christ until I was 25 and let's just say I wasn't a pillar of morality up to that point in my life. I know that Jesus Christ offers salvation and grace for whatever crazy things we've managed to get ourselves into and I never want to discount the role He plays in the healing of people. That being said, I haven't seen this film so I don't know if the character's redemption is due to God's power in his life or through his own doing. If it's the latter then it likely just feeds the already prevailing notion that we don't need God in our lives, we can do it on our own if we try hard enough or, in some instances, if we dig ourselves so deep that we are forced to find our own way out. I'm not sure that's a great message for a Christian culture website to encourage.
By no means should we ever turn a blind eye to the reality that is life, be it drugs, alcoholism, murder, theft, extramarital affairs, cheating on our taxes, whatever sin it happens to be. Sin is a reality in this world and we can't ignore it. We can however choose to promote stories that show the redemption available in Jesus Christ.

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