Michael Douglas won an Oscar in 1988 for his role as a sleazy businessman in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.” Apparently, that’s what he does best, because he’s back in fiery, full-blown jerk form in the independent drama “Solitary Man,” and it is again an Oscar-caliber performance.
Douglas plays Ben Kalman, a successful auto magnate who at the beginning of the film gets worrisome news from his doctor. The look on Douglas’ beaming face changes.
Fast-forward more than six years, as Douglas meets his daughter, Susan (Jenna Fischer from “The Office”), and grandson at a park in New York City. He also spots an attractive young woman who exchanges his flirty glance, so he instructs his grandson to call him “Dad” so the girl won’t hear “Grandpa.” He’s all about making a great first impression, at any cost.
From there, details of Ben’s past are revealed throughout the story. He is divorced from his wife, Nancy (Susan Sarandon), after cheating on her. He was once on the cover of Forbes magazine, but then spent time in prison for a sales scam that rocked the industry.
He now seeks solace in picking up 20-something women in bars, even though he is 60. He’s also dating Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker), who is unable to accompany her daughter, Allyson (Imogen Poots), on a college interview trip. The school is Ben’s alma mater, so Jordan asks him to go with Allyson.
It turns out Ben was a hefty contributor in his better-off days, and can still put in a good word for Allyson with the dean. But as soon as they get to campus, Ben gets in a fight with a college kid.
That’s just the tip of his downward spiral. Ben’s behavior gets more selfdestructive, as he isolates those who are hard-headed enough to still love him.
A new business venture crashes, which leaves Ben broke and evicted from his apartment. He has nowhere to go except to an old friend (Danny DeVito), who owns a deli in the college town.
Ben finds his life falling apart, as he begins to face repercussions for his actions past and present.
“Solitary Man” is a vibrant character study of a man who has no faith in humanity. That Douglas makes this character appealing — even at Ben’s worst moments — is a testament to his bravura acting. We simply can’t take our eyes off the walking car wreck in front of us.
Though “Solitary Man” is about a man who hates himself, somehow we don’t hate him. At its core, this is a tale of redemption.
Rating: R (language and some sexual content)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, Danny DeVito
Directed by: Brian Koppelman and David Levien
Showing at: Warren Theatre (east)