Solitary Man follows the same pattern as many tragedies: a character starts with success, slowly loses everything, unravels their life while detrimentally affecting everyone around them, and winds up at the bottom, penniless and alone. Yet many movies, including several of the absolute greatest, are able to convince the audience to relate to the lead character, no matter how downtrodden and depressing they are, due to a hopefully inevitable redemption. At some point there has to be a win, if not for the hero then for someone else in the story. Solitary Man is comfortable with avoiding any form of salvation, preventing viewers from the satisfaction of the lead character’s well-being or contentment or even a definite resolution. This is a pity, considering the use of an outstanding veteran cast and initially interesting characters.
Six-and-a-half years ago Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) received some information from his doctor concerning troublesome electrocardiograph results. Without waiting to find out any further details, he started a descent into self-destruction in an attempt to ignore aging and cheat death. He began as a successful car salesman, with multiple dealerships to his name. His taste for younger women caused him to leave his devoted wife Nancy (Susan Sarandon), and his interest in scams led to an embarrassing public ordeal that forced him to spend his wealth trying to stay out of jail. His friends, family, reputation and business associates have all suffered from his disregard for anyone but himself.
At first, Ben tries to maintain a relationship with his daughter Susan (Jenna Fischer), but his constant pursuit of women drives her further away. This unhealthy obsession also negatively affects his girlfriend Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker) and her 18-year-old daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots). The simple task of accompanying Allyson to a college interview results in some shocking surprises, but he does manage to take one of the students, Daniel Cheston (Jesse Eisenberg, looking as stiff and bashful as ever), under his wing. Taking sex advice from Ben proves awkward, humorous and effective. For a fleeting moment, it seems that Ben’s indiscretions have allowed him to be useful. But his downward spiral continues as avoidable alienations ward off everyone he communicates with.
Solitary Man is very heavy on dialogue, but it never bores. As Ben tries to live life like he’s about to die, he pretends to have no regrets, arguing that most of his worst mistakes were worth the temporary pleasure. Consistency and reliability are not his best qualities. He’s a genuinely dislikeable character, but Michael Douglas gives Ben an undeniable charisma that makes him watchable at the least. The shame is in the progression of the role, from confident, to depressingly immoral, to momentarily reflective but devoid of authentic remorse. There’s nothing terribly new here except the refusal to give audiences what they want – an upper to ease all of the building despair. By the end, Solitary Man feels a little incomplete and largely unsatisfying, although it’s a fitting movie for producer Steven Soderbergh’s continually decreasing interest in mainstream.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)