Goodbye Solo (review)

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He’s the best American filmmaker working today whom you’ve never heard of: Ramin Bahrani has the exquisite talent of making the ordinary and the mundane soar into realms of rarefied and unexpectedly moving drama. After two extraordinary features set in New York City — 2007’s hard-edged Chop Shop and 2005’s sharp and delicate Man Push Cart — Bahrani returns to his native North Carolina for this graceful tale of a Winston-Salem cab driver, Senegalese immigrant Solo (the irresistibly charming Souleymane Sy Savane), who befriends a fare, William (Red West: Forty Shades of Blue), after hearing the elderly customer’s strange request: William wants to arrange for Solo to drive him, several weeks hence, to a remote mountaintop… and leave him there. Solo gets it: William’s gonna commit suicide. And William doesn’t want to hear any guff suggesting he shouldn’t, not that Solo won’t try anyway. Oh, if you didn’t think the “crotchety old man who learns the true meaning of blah blah blah” genre could get turned on its head — Solo probably learns more than William does — and actually result in a tender, haunting, yet never schmaltzy story, you are in for a treat: finding real heart, not the phony stuff, is what Bahrani does so well. The script, cowritten by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi, is divine, charting the rising of Solo’s dreams — he doesn’t want to be a cab driver forever — against the crushing of William’s, and in the end, we’re no sure who’s learned what from whom. But it’s the crushing performances by Savane and West that linger: these are two men the likes of whom we’ve never seen onscreen before, and cannot soon forget. DVD extras (not reviewed) include a commentary track.

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