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Red West, left, & Souléymane Sy Savané (Photo: Roadside Attractions)

Edited & Directed by Ramin Bahrani
Produced by
Jason Orans & Bahrani
Written by Bahareh Azimi & Bahrani
Released by Roadside Attractions
USA. 91 min. Not Rated
Souléymane Sy Savané, Red West, Diana Franco Galindo, Carmen Leyva, Lane Williams & Mamadou

Red West, professional stuntman, personal bodyguard and companion to Elvis Presley, and longtime supporting actor (he’s played everything from Rip Torn’s drinking buddy in the remarkably textured Forty Shades of Blue to Cowboy Sheriff in Natural Born Killers), finally walks into the spotlight. With tired eyes that speak louder than most actors’ climactic monologues, and an understated delivery in perfect parallel to his character’s no-bullshit style, his co-starring performance seems long overdue, yet impeccably timed. In Goodbye Solo, the third feature from the increasingly reputable Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, West plays William, a lonely, bitter, chain-smoking old man who’s ready to call it a day in the most permanent way possible. 

Moving out of his apartment and into a motel, he meets Solo (Senegalese TV actor Souléymane Sy Savané, in an impressive feature film debut). A bright-eyed Winston-Salem taxi driver, Solo thinks that gabbing with his passengers is the best part of the gig. Allowing for a tepid rapport to develop with his eager urban Sherpa, William hires Solo to drive him to Blowing Rock, a storied North Carolinian mountaintop, in two weeks time.     

Back home, Solo faces the wrath of his pregnant Mexican wife. Already frustrated with Solo’s irregular hours as a taxi driver, Quiera (Carmen Leyva) is eager to put the kibosh on her husband’s dreams of flying the friendly skies as a flight attendant, a job which would make Solo even more absent. Solo, inspired in large part by his new friendship with the fiercely independent William, refuses to back down. So, booted from home, Solo moves into William’s motel room. 

Goodbye Solo, which won the International Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival, proves to be a worthy entry in the carefully orchestrated minimalist/realism subgenre that independent film needs right now to keep from gagging on its own hipster and quirky tendencies. West’s performance succeeds in adding convincing dimension to the hazily-written character of William, but Bahrani’s direction resorts to a few stale narrative devices to pack in an emotional wallop—like the inclusion of diaries with sentimental ruminations. As a result, the drama comes served on a faintly compromised platter. Determined to resist the optimism present in most Hollywood third acts, yet unable to flourish on its own terms without dipping its toes in the very waters it seeks to avoid, Goodbye Solo is an engaging character study in search of either a starker vision or a more developed script.  Patrick Wood
March 27, 2009



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