Combustible Celluloid
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With: Souleymane Sy Savane, Red West, Diana Franco Galindo, Lane 'Roc' Williams, Mamadou Lam, Carmen Leyva
Written by: Bahareh Azimi, Ramin Bahrani
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 91
Date: 08/31/2008

Goodbye Solo (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dear Cabbie

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Goodbye Solo is a film light in plot but generous in spirit. It tells one of those old, familiar Hollywood yarns about the eccentric oddball who takes an uptight outcast under his or her wing and tries to open him or her up. Then they both learn happy lessons about life in balance. Hollywood generally bungles this formula by making the characters too extreme, with no resemblance to life, but here director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) makes no such mistake. Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane, in a terrific film debut) comes from Senegal and lives in North Carolina, drives a cab, is married to a Mexican woman (Carmen Leyva), and is expecting his first child. He dreams of becoming a flight attendant and constantly studies his manual. He also has a whip-smart stepdaughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo) who likes to spend time with him. Solo is like somebody you might know and wish to be more like; he has lots of friends and seems to trade in favors more often than money. (His wife, however, sees him as dreamy and impractical.)

Bahrani and co-writer Bahareh Azimi don't waste any time with these details; they're simply strewn about the course of the film so that we can pick them up as we go along. Rather, the movie starts cold as Solo picks up an aging good-ol'-boy, William (character actor Red West, also known as a close friend of Elvis Presley's) in his cab. William requests another pickup in several days' time, and a ride to the top of a mountain in exchange for a substantial fee. Though the movie never confirms it, Solo assumes -- as do we -- that William intends to end his life up there. Solo quickly realizes that if he refuses, William will simply hire another cab, so he tries to befriend the old man, introducing him to things like life, family and hope. The movie is a good deal more organic and grounded than it sounds; it's not sentimental, nor is it forced. It simply lives moment by moment. Perhaps the most telling detail is the one in which we learn that a stick, when thrown off the side of the mountain, will return due to the strong and peculiar wind patterns. Whether or not William actually ends his life off the edge of the mountain isn't really the point. He will now live a little bit longer, thanks to Solo and thanks to this movie.

DVD Details: Lionsgate's DVD release comes with a commentary track by director Bahrani and cinematographer Michael Simmonds, and trailers. It has an optional 2.0 or 5.1 audio tracks, plus optional English and Spanish subtitles. It's a pretty bare-bones package for such a great sleeper. I hope people check it out.

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