They burn brightly in the brain long after their celluloid images fade. Downey is the figure more committed to a story line readers will praise. Foxx is the man who cannot exorcise his mental demons - mostly the numerous voices he hears - to permit his talent to flourish. But music, notably Beethoven scores, can soothe him momentarily. Beethoven also can be spewed out in his stream-of-conscience speech, along with the word "defecation."
Foxx's Nathaniel is not easy to deal with, but Downey's Steve is persistent, and a tenuous bond is formed until one infuriates the other. Steve tries to get medical attention, a tiny apartment, private lessons and a concert for Nathaniel, but Nathaniel is happier on the streets. Steve learns there are some things he cannot change, including his failed marriage. Still, he never stops trying and manages to persuade the musician to permit his sister to govern his life.
Obviously, Foxx's character is the showier of the two, especially when he is given some glitzy costumes as well as the disjointed dialogue. Yet Downey goes toe to toe and emerges an equal as he mines Steve for his inner, long-buried emotions. And when they brawl, it seems totally real rather than staged choreography.
Catherine Keener has few scenes as Steve's former wife, but the final one she makes memorable for its poignancy. Scoring better are Tom Hollander as the symphony musician who tries to draw Nathaniel to religion and Nelsan Ellis as the no-nonsense director of a homeless shelter.
The film is not without flaws. Integrating the music includes one scene of animated abstracts in brilliant color that draws attention away from the drama. The story of the decline of newspapers begins promisingly but fades away.
For this blame director Joe Wright, but also credit him hugely for his portrait of the homeless street scene in downtown L.A. The figures seem so authentic they can break moviegoers' hearts, or at least bring tears to their eyes.
1958 adventure film set for cinephile show
"The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958) marked a milestone for special-effects expert Ray Harryhausen. It was his first color film. The adventure saga is Syracuse Cinephile Society's Monday night film, slated for 7:30 p.m. at the Spaghetti Warehouse.
Harryhausen used his expertise and the color to bring to life dragons, a cyclops and a genie in a bottle. Among his stars were Kathryn Grant, who later became the wife of singer Bing Crosby.
Joan Vadeboncoeur writes for CNY, Weekend and Stars.