Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) used to be known as the most honest car dealer in New York. That was until Ben learned something might be wrong with his heart. Scared by the news, Ben systematically set about destroying his life in order to live the one he felt he was never able to. Now divorced, he sleeps with girls young enough to be his daughter. He constantly undermines his actual daughter (Jenna Fischer). And he perpetually disappoints his grandson by not showing up to important events. He seems to use his friends, like Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg) a college student, as ways to get ahead instead of for actual friendships. He has a good thing going with a new girlfriend (Mary Louise-Parker), but ends up screwing that up too. In short Ben Kalmen is the master of narcissism. He's a sociopath, who probably wasn't always like this, but after that health scare, he decided that his finite time on earth should be spent searching for his own pleasures.
Before he screws things up with his new girlfriend, she enlists him to escort her daughter to a potential college. Ben knows the dean and has donated millions of dollars over the years. His name is even on the library. He's there to make sure Allyson gets into school.
Ben just can't help himself though. He's like a kid in a candy store every time he sees another blonde-haired, big-breasted bimbo pass his way. He's in denial about how old he is, and gets mad at his grandson for calling him grandpa. This is a man so full of himself he can only be played by Michael Douglas. I mean that in a good way.
Remember Gordon Gecko from 'Wall Street?' How silly of me to ask, of course you haven't forgotten about him. Ben Kalmen is a branch of the Gordon Gecko ego. He's brash, full of bravado, and inherently flawed. Ben is driven by greed, like Gecko, but Ben's greed is less about money and more about the ability to control people. He's a car dealer for heaven's sake. The man cons people each and every day. Sure, he was known as the "most honest car dealer in New York," but that was only until he decided that being honest wasn't getting him where he wanted to be.
In the pursuit of pleasure, Ben has lost everything that was truly pleasurable in his life. While 'Solitary Man' gives off a predictable vibe, it still has Michael Douglas there to keep us fixated on this character. Ben's actions are infuriating, but his motivations are real. Deep down he knows what he should do, it's just the classic case of ego winning out.
'Solitary Man' sports a fantastic ensemble cast, but failed to make much money during its limited run in theaters. This is one to catch on home video. Michael Douglas does what he does best. Playing a man with an out of control ego. A man who's willing to risk everything for material things and one night stands.
I reviewed another movie a few weeks back about a slovenly narcissist character, 'Multiple Sarcasms.' The difference between Ben and Timothy Hutton's playwright character is that Ben has a reason to turn his life inside out. We get into his head, find out why he's acting the way he is. 'Multiple Sarcasms' featured a character that destroyed his good life for nothing, he admitted as much, and then he was faced with a happy-go-lucky ending. Ben's choices take a toll on him and the people he loves. They take a toll on us too, but Douglas makes it interesting to watch.
'Solitary Man' comes to home video courtesy of Anchor Bay. Their 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer is pretty sharp most of the time, but is plagued by frequent soft shots, which are detrimental to the overall detail of the movie.
Colors are nice, the green trees and plants of the college campus are juxtaposed well with the grays and brows of the surrounding buildings. Blacks are perhaps the biggest surprise, as lower budget films tend to have wavering blacks, because they are sufficiently deep. Shadows reveal good detail and never swallow up whole faces or obscure detail during nighttime scenes. I didn't notice any source noise or any other digital anomalies which would hamper viewing this film. Close ups are very nice, revealing facial pores and each and every strand of Michael Douglas' good looking head of hair. Contrast is well balanced, with whites never burning too hot. Overall, this is a very good looking transfer considering the small budget.The consistent soft shots do bring it down just a tad in the overall score, but for the most part this is a transfer that any high-def lover will be proud of.
'Solitary Man's sound on the other hand leaves a lot to be desired. This is partly because of the sound design, but it could have also been handled a little better. The soundfield is awfully bland, featuring what could have been a 3.0 presentation. The rears are almost completely silent. Some of the musical score finds its way back there, but that's all. Even on crowded college campuses, rocking college parties, or bustling restaurants, the rears are oddly unengaged. LFE is also a casualty of lifelessness. About the only time we hear much bass is during the couple of college parties that Ben goes to. Even then, its subdued. Dialogue is clearly audible for much of the movie, although during the party scenes dialogue comes across as muted and hampered. The prioritization of the voices compared to the music seems off. Even though this is one of those talk-heavy dramas, I still expected a bit more from this otherwise reserved audio presentation.
I liked this movie, but mostly because of Michael Douglas. If anyone else had played the role of Ben, I doubt this film would have grabbed me. Douglas does a truly great narcissistic character. He's one of the best at it, and this material suits him perfectly. The video on this release is rather well done, but the sound is nothing to shout about, and the extra package is extra dull. I'm recommending a rental here, just because of the movie and Douglas' performance. If you're a Douglas fan you'll like this film.