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Laramie Movie Scope:
Solitary Man

Looking for love in all the wrong places

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 29, 2010 -- As you might expect, this film opens to the song “Solitary Man,” but it isn't Neil Diamond's version, it is the Johnny Cash version recorded late in the great singer's career after a narrow escape from death due to a serious illness. The weary soulfulness of that song fits perfectly with this film about a man, faced with his own mortality, uses this crisis as an excuse to make a series of very bad decisions.

Michael Douglas (of “The Sentinel”) stars as Ben Kalmen, a once successful businessman who gets worrisome news from his doctor and immediately begins to act as if his life is over. He begins cheating on his wife. He begins cheating his customers at his string of car dealerships. He burns the bridges of nearly all the relationships of his life, becoming a very solitary man. In the process of making all these self-destructive choices he gets into legal problems and loses all of his money and all of his friends, save one. His downward spiral continues right up to the end of the movie. Whether it continues beyond that is left up to the viewer to decide.

While the movie never does really explain Kalmen's bad behavior, only the event that set it off, it is a very good character study of a man seemingly bent on destroying himself. The movie hints at the idea that having affairs with young women makes him feel younger, at least for a time. One particular ill-advised affair with one young woman nearly leads to his death when he runs afoul of some organized crime figures. Kalmen's main talent seems to lie in his ability to ignore the warning signs ahead in his life, warning signs that should let him know what kind of consequences are in store for him as a result of his own actions.

Part of Kalmen's problem is that he has a very dim view of humanity. He thinks that everyone is as self-centered and selfish as he is. He describes loving relationships as business-like “transactions,” always wondering what each person is getting out of it. Oddly enough, however, he seems to be looking for love, even while he has this negative view of relationships. He is just looking for love in the wrong places. When his old friend, Jimmy Merino (Danny DeVito “L.A. Confidential”), agrees to help him, Kalmen can't help but wonder “What's in it for him?” When he is finally forced to realize that Merino doesn't want anything from him, he must consider the possibility he is wrong about people. Kalmen begins to think there may be some “good ones” among the people he knows, and maybe one of those is his ex-wife, Nancy (Susan Sarandon of “In the Valley of Elah”). In the end, is Kalmen ready to rejoin humanity, or will he remain a solitary man? Every member of the audience can end the film the way they want to in their own mind.

Douglas gives a tour de force performance here and the rest of the cast is excellent as well. While I couldn't really buy Kalmen's behavior based on his motivations, Douglas does a tremendous job of selling this character anyway. Even though he does some truly despicable things, Kalmen is still a character who I had some sympathy for. I did want him to survive and to become a better man. I'd like to think that everyone can be redeemed and Kalmen seemed to be a character who could maybe redeem himself someday. After all, he had been a decent man once. He could do it again This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2010 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)