The Solo of “Goodbye Solo” is a cab driver (Souleymane Sy Savane) in Winston-Salem, N.C. Originally from Senegal, he has family back in the old country to which he sends as much of his paycheck as he can afford.
In the grand tradition of cabbies, he’s a chatty guy who can talk about almost anything. One day, he picks up a gloomy old man who wants to be driven out to a touristy mountain. Solo forces the man to reveal his name, which is William (Red West, “Natural Born Killers”) and the driver jokingly, at first, tells the man not to jump when he reaches the top. Quickly becoming apparent is the suggestion that a leap is just what William has in mind, so the ever-optimistic Solo takes him home and settles the stranger on the couch, much to Mrs. Solo’s disgust.
Solo is a slickster, a nice fellow who can smile and talk his way into other people’s lives. He’s not loud, but he believes that if you say something over and over again, people will come around. He’s a personable man who is willing to be everyone’s friend, but he could get on your nerves pretty easily.
William, on the other hand, could be Clint Eastwood’s character in “Gran Torino.” Gradually, he comes to accept Solo and his stepdaughter, but he always seems on the verge of emotional collapse. Solo figures out that the old man has a son or grandson living in the area ” family he has never met ” and it becomes the cabbie’s mission to connect William to the relatives.
William demands his aloneness and his anger at being manipulated, even out of kindness, is hard to argue with. You have to wonder if Solo is so giving because he’s so needy himself. When William becomes fed up with Solo’s interference, he orders the driver to leave him alone.
West is brilliant as William, a man whose face reflects a lifetime of bad decisions, missed opportunities and tough luck, and who just wants to leave life, for once, on his own terms. Savane is equally good as Solo, a man who believes in the power of family, his own future and the importance of people of no importance. The two men’s wills are in powerful opposition and their goals cannot be compromised.
The picture is directed by Ramin Bahrani (“Chop Shop”), who captures well the odd blend of the beauty semi-rural mountain surroundings, and the unease of fog and mist. Ultimately, the two elements must go together.
“Goodbye Solo,” which screens 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, plays the gamut of notes from cheerfulness to sadness, and the melody ends just where it should. “Doug Bentin