Solitary Man

How to root for Michael Douglas’ lost soul

Jun 30, 2010 at 12:00 am

In Solitary Man, Michael Douglas hobbles around like a lion with a thorn in his paw, fiercely refusing to admit that his proud gait has been slowed to a limp. Douglas plays Ben Kalman, a reduction of his most famous characters, like Gordon Gecko, a vain, one-time hot shot laid low by the vicissitudes of time, and mostly by his own epic failings. In his glory days, Ben billed himself as "New York's honest car dealer," then stopped believing his own pitches, started scamming and cooking the books, losing his mini-empire and, for a while, even his freedom. Time in the joint tends to sober a guy up, but not our Ben; he's still tousling his mane and chasing after anything in a skirt, preferably those with the freshest sell-by dates. He won't let his grown daughter call him "Dad" in public, and makes his grandson call him "Captain Ben," so as not scare off the chippies. He's the sort of reckless old cad who isn't satisfied with dating a smokin' hot lady like Mary-Louise Parker, but chooses instead to make a move on her nubile daughter while escorting her on a college tour of his alma mater. That colossally bad decision is just one mishap for a man who seems genetically adverse to any growth or maturation, and the film never wavers in exposing the warts behind the matinee smile. 

Such a selfish, unrepentant asshole should be easy to dismiss, but Douglas plays him with so much charm and intelligence that we root for his lost soul, while suspecting he may never have had one. 

Douglas gets to tweak his pet theme of male ego run amok, and if it's too familiar a turn, we can forgive him his victory lap.  

He's also subtly spoofing his own screen legacy, and his aging baby boomer generation's legendary self-absorption. While Ben is slow to understand it, we know that no man is an island, and Douglas gets sterling support from everybody, from Jenna Fischer as his exasperated daughter to Jesse Eisenberg as his timid young wingman to a warm Danny DeVito as his loyal old pal. 

Co-director Brian Koppelman's acidic script is so wickedly funny and brutally honest that it keeps the tone more Irish wake than dirge, even in the bleakest moments. For Ben, life is a series of transactions: Though at the end the terms are final, what you get out of the deal is up to you.

Showing at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].