A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
For an actor with so many film credits, Michael Douglas hasn't played many conventional heroes. Yes, he did those “Romancing the Stone” roles, and he's been more memorable as a villain (“Wall Street”), but his strongest roles are as sinners: not big or bad enough to be villains, more ordinary men, smart, glib, conniving, trying to get by on short dues. Here is where he best uses his considerable screen presence. And he gets better at it as he grows older, because his characters keep on sinning when they just don't have the stamina for it anymore.
In “Solitary Man,” he plays Ben Kalman, once a regional celebrity as “New York's Honest Car Dealer.” Ben is good-looking, still has that great head of hair, and is as persuasive as — well, as a good car dealer. In business, he can sense what car to put you in. In sex, he can sense what mood to put you on. He closes a lot of deals.
He isn't solitary by choice but by default. He cheated on his good wife, Nancy (Susan Sarandon). He disappointed their daughter, Susan (Jenna Fischer) one time too many. He cheats on his current companion, Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker), in a particularly unforgivable way. He uses charm and the offer of his experience in life to charm Daniel Cheston (Jesse Eisenberg), a college student, and then betrays him. He has lied to his customers so often that, as everyone knows, “Honest Ben Kalman” spent time behind bars.
Yet he's charming and persuasive. He looks like a winner until you look too close. “Solitary Man” follows him for several days after he agrees to accompany Jordan's daughter, Allyson (Imogen Poots), as she goes for a college interview. This is the same school he attended. He knows the dean, which may be a help.