Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Goodbye Solo

"The Silent Act"

"Goodbye Solo" begins "in media res"—at exactly the point when the subject matter of the film (a promised taxi fare to Blowing Rock, North Carolina at 8:00 am October 20, 1997) is first proffered to Senegalese cabbie "Solo" (Souleymane Sy Savane) by regular passenger William ("Memphis Mafia" member Red West). Solo, smile-at-the-ready, eager-to-please-and-profit, wants to know why—it's not like William's regular trip from his apartment house to the Majestic movie-house. Solo's good at his job. He knows all the routes in Winston-Salem, offers riders exclusive service, and wants the best for his growing family—his wife Quiera (Carmen Leyva), precocious step-daughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo) and one on the way.

But he's never had an offer like this and his curiosity is peaked, especially when William (whom Solo calls "Big Dog")is less than forthcoming with details about the trip and his life, preferring to sit in the back of the cab purposefully, not hostile exactly, but not giving away anything. William plays his cards close to the vest, playing the silent act. Usually, Solo is content to let things be, his rotating passengers passing fancies. But not William. William becomes an obsession.

What director
Ramin Bahrani (who has generated a lot of interest in his young career with the films Man Push Cart and Chop Shop) is presenting is a simple detective story. There's a mystery and a time-limit and Solo is the man on a mission. That Solo is usually the guy who's cut out of transitions in detective stories makes up the sociological aspect of the film and the attractive spin to the story. As played by Savane, he's a guy in transition and, as per his job, always on the move, hustling and bargaining and angling for a job as a flight attendant.

William couldn't be more different: a good old boy with the "good" in question, his face lined with creases of a lived-hard life and the two men are marked contrasts: Solo, starting out, climbing the ladder, gregarious, looking for angles; William, perpetually checking out, keeping his council, on a set path. Savane's playing a role and West has lived it.
Those contrasts provide a rich vein of drama and comedy, but provide the taxi-man with a common question: where are we going?

The answer is, of course,
the same place. But how they get there is marked in contrasts, too. Savane is a wonder. He has the tough job in the movie, whether starting out with a constant stream of "Hail-fellow-man-well-met" pleasantries, then as his investigation starts producing clues, the smile begins to fade and his eyes start to go back 5,000 years. After a fashion the performances begin to merge as Savane's eyes take on the same dewey ancientness of West's. It's incredible work (and it's only his second film).

They buzz about Bahrani is true—his films seem simple, and could frustrate the casual film-goer ("What was that about?") but they are dark, complex and stay with you long after you leave the theater. There are no cheap metaphors that wave their hands and say, "I'm important." Just strong characters with lives in flux that wonder and worry about when Bahrani abruptly denies access (which in itself reflects on the film's themes). "I wonder what she'll become?" is why there are such things as long goodbyes.

"Goodbye Solo" is a Full-Price Ticket

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