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Crossroads Review: GoodBye Solo

April 6, 2009


Sometimes a film knocks the wind out of you, leaving you with a melancholic satisfaction that only a well-told drama can do. Ramin Bahrani’s newest, Good Bye Solo is the first film to do just that in quite some time.

We first meet Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) and William (Red West) mid-conversation after William offers a nice chunk of change for Solo to drive him in two weeks to the remote mountaintop Blowing Rock, a place known because when a stick is thrown down it returns to you because the wind.

We are carried along with Solo as his shock grows into concern, the warmth of his character enveloping us into an easy belief in the way he handles the news. We are shown the kindness of Solo in the way he interacts with others, including his wife and step-child  Alex (Diana Franco Galindo).

A story about an immigrant with dreams of flying, Solo is one of the most likeable characters on screen. We hold out hope with him that things can change for William, that Solo’s belief, his hope, can turn things around for both of them. The only time that we hear a voice over is when, studying for his flight test, Solo reads how flight attendants role is to support life. We see that thesis carried out in Solo’s compassionate embrace of William’s life. He attempts to understand him, stealing his medicine to see if he is ill, following his path to the movie theaters, moving in with him when he has a fight with his wife.

The scenes are an unapologetic look at the real South. Broken down stores, dirty gas stations, water towers and a brokedown movie theater are the daily scenes in Solo’s life as he drives passengers to their destinations.

For us, Solo is the representation of life. We meet him on his birthday, we see him through the birth of his son, through his dream of starting a new life. William, who reflects little emotion until Alex, Solo’s daughter, softens him slightly, letting him have a moment of closeness. But we are given a glimpse of William in his journal entries that Solo discovers which provide us with the intimate answers into the state of mind of someone set to end his life.

When they travel to Blowing Rock, we never see what happens to William, but Solo and Alex throw a stick into the wind. Unlike the legend, the stick doesn’t return. The moment is understated, beautiful and heart breaking. Like most of the film, what is not said and not shown has the biggest impact on us. Along those lines, a scene where the title words would fit perfectly hangs on the lips of William, never to be spoken. The silence brought tears to my eyes.

Goodbye Solo is now in theaters but likely won’t make it to Oxford anytime soon. But watch out for it once available on DVD – or if you are somewhere lucky enough to see it on the big screen, do so.

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