It doesn't take a genius to figure out what William is planning. But Solo is a kind of genius - funny, gregarious, full of ideas and ambitions, generosity and compassion. He believes that if he befriends William, he can persuade the old man to change his mind.
Bahrani trains the camera on his respective stars as they walk and talk, eat meals, and play pool - determined to find the truth in what they do. West, a longtime bodyguard for Elvis Presley (really!), a songwriter, stuntman and occasional actor, has a face that speaks volumes. His portrayal of the broke-down William feels effortless. Savané, a French African making his first appearance onscreen, shows an intelligence and humor - and empathy - that'll grab you.
Solo is by no means a saint, and the relationship with his Mexican American wife (Carmen Leyva) gets messy. Her 9-year-old daughter (Diana Franco Galindo) and Solo have their own bond, and as the film moves along, the little girl's presence adds a layer of emotional resonance.
Bahrani's previous features, Man Push Cart and Chop Shop, took place in New York. Both dealt with the immigrant experience and were shot on location, using mostly nonprofessional actors. There's nothing fancy going on cinematically in these films - they're just the work of a keen, observant eye, catching the details and the everyday dramas, letting the stories unfold.
There's another movie in theaters right now with "Solo" in the title - The Soloist - and the difference between Hollywood's take on the "real world" (homelessness, mental illness) and the New York-based Bahrani's is striking. Each is about strangers crossing paths on a city street, and the chance friendship that changes their lives. But I would say that Goodbye Solo, without ornamentation or manipulation, speaks to the human condition in ways that the big-star studio job of The Soloist can only dream about.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com.