Goodbye Solo Directed by: Ramin Bahrani Cast: Souleymane Sy Savane, Red West Running Time: 1 hr 15 min Rating: No MPAA Rating Release Date: May 27, 2009
Plot: An African immigrant is working as a cabbie, when he picks up an unusual fare. An older gentleman named William offers Solo, the driver, one thousand dollars to drive him, in ten days, to the top of a mountain in Blowing Rock National Park. William’s trip is clearly designed to be one-way and Solo gradually ingratiates himself into William’s life in an attempt to save him.
Who’s It For? Fans of Ramin Bahrani’s excellent Chop Shop and any devotees of indie film perfection.
Expectations: None. I’d never heard of it and the title suggested absolutely nothing to me. I went in blind as a bat, which can be disorienting with subtler films.
Actors: Souleymane Sy Savane as Solo: Savane is phenomenal in Goodbye Solo, because everything he does is so undeniably real. He’s like Russell Crowe without the arrogance and self-awareness. He is naturally one of the most gifted newcomers I think I’ve ever seen. The scenes between Savane and West are remarkable, but even when Savane is doing the most mundane things on screen he is still just bursting with effortless talent. The character is also incredibly well written and when you combine Savane’s skillful portrayal with good writing, you get a film that feels more like an actual glimpse into someone’s life. Score: 10
Red West as William: West starts the film as complicated and suicidal, which clashes with Savane’s smiling, friendly Solo. You give William a chance because Solo becomes so invested in his outcome, but West isn’t as appealing. West is adroit as William, but he is definitely swept up by Savane’s incredible charm and presence. Still, the relationship between the two men is so touching and so real and West deserves some props. Score: 8
Talking: These are real people having real conversations and real conversations aren’t pithy or quotable. Dialogue that somehow manages to transcend a movie’s inherent self-consciousness is so rare, that it’s possible to confuse it with bland simplicity. What you need to do is still your chaotic mind (“Why aren’t things exploding? Where’s the rampaging dinosaurs?”) and stay very aware of the multitude of nuances and layers. Score: 9
Sights: The cinematography certainly isn’t flashy, which would have detracted from the story’s gentle beauty. When William and Solo are shot together in the night cab, the stark difference between William’s shrunken unhappiness and Solo’s all-encompassing good nature is so brilliant and striking. This film is one long celebration of less is more. Score: 9
Sounds: Like the rest of the film, simple and perfectly suited to the scene and the characters. Score: 8
Best Scene: All of my favorite scenes involved William and Solo in Solo’s cab, when the first seeds of friendship are first planted.
Ending: Touching, but a little unsatisfactory.
Questions: I did wonder why Solo cared so much about an old, cranky coot like William, but I think that’s a clear indicator that I’m not as good as Solo.
Rewatchability: I need to see this movie again. Going into it without any idea as to plot meant I spent way too much time trying to orient myself within the story and I have to revisit the subtleties I missed.
OVERALL I honestly don’t prefer these painfully vivid glimpses into reality, because I find reality to be messy and sad and unfriendly. I greatly prefer sillier movies that don’t challenge me or make me think about my surroundings, even if I end up harping on those movies afterwards—it’s me carefully maintaining my own blissful ignorance. And Goodbye Solo isn’t quite the kick in the emotional nuts that Dear Zachary was, but it’s still extraordinarily corporeal. Goodbye Solo is truly film art. It is lovely and touching and incredibly well done.
While I’m on one side of the spectrum saying reality is yucky and grainy, Bahrani strives to pin it down and capture it with all the painstaking detail of a three-dimensional digital photograph. The film is truly wonderful and enjoyable as pure indie art. That being said, I’m looking forward to stepping back into my comfort zone with Drag Me to Hell, which won’t challenge me to think about overarching themes like regret, friendship, and inevitable changes from one generation to the next. Goodbye Solo knocked my socks off, but now I’m going to put them back on and go back to stuff blowing up and rampaging dinosaurs. Ah, much better.
Final Score: 9/10