Film of the Day: Goodbye Solo (2008)

‘Goodbye Solo’

Ramin Bahrani’s film, starring Souléymane Sy Savané and Red West, ruminates powerfully on the obligations of friendship.

April 10, 2009|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

“Goodbye Solo” is a deceptive film. Its style is spare, rigorous, almost anti-dramatic, but it deals thoughtfully with some of the most complex elements of the human equation.

For director Ramin Bahrani, surface stylishness is not what’s important. As with his previous independent works, “Man Push Cart” and “Chop Shop,” he’s concerned with echoing reality, with exploring the truth of the lives of the people on society’s margins who populate his films.

So Bahrani doesn’t start “Goodbye Solo” in the conventional way, with establishing shots that let us know where we are. Instead, without any preamble, we are thrown into a taxi in what turns out to be Winston-Salem, N.C. (the director’s birthplace), and into the middle of a conversation between the driver and the passenger, a conversation whose ramifications will play out for the rest of the story.

The driver, a native of Senegal named Solo, is the opposite of his name. As played by Souleymane Sy Savane, an African-born French model, Solo is irrepressible and gregarious, someone whose infectious good spirits mandate hugs and handshakes all around. Yet though he’s ordinarily unflappable and unfazed, Solo is taken aback by something his passenger says.

Though Solo calls him (and almost everyone else) Big Dog, the passenger’s name is William. As played by 72-year-old Red West, once a stuntman and close associate of Elvis Presley, William is crusty, wary and foul-tempered, the kind of man who doesn’t have a good word for anyone. But that’s not what gets Solo’s attention.

That would be an out-of-town trip William is planning, a trip he’s willing to pay the right cabbie $1,000 to handle. In less than two weeks, he wants to be taken to a desolate spot called the Blowing Rock and be left alone there. The implication is clear: William is not planning to take another cab back; this lonely, haunted man is not planning to come back at all.

Solo barely knows William, but something about this unspoken plan disturbs Solo on an instinctive level. Seeing someone so cut off from life and community, someone so friendless and alone, offends Solo’s cultural sense of the way the world should work. Impulsively, without any real plan, he decides to try to change that dynamic.

Film Review from Los Angeles Times

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