Some actors are just better at playing bad, and Michael Douglas is the best (think Gordon Gekko). In "Solitary Man," Douglas totally owns the film as a has-been car dealer who's paying the price for past indiscretions. It's his best work in years, with a performance that has “Oscar” written all over it.
Douglas plays Ben Kalmen, a divorced, arrogant womanizer who prefers not to be called "Dad" or "Grandpa." He's been on top for most of his life — TV spots, magazine covers, but his ruthlessness has caught up with him. He leaves victims in the wake of his charm. Sleeping with his girlfriend's (Mary-Louise Parker) daughter (Imogen Poots) eventually seals his fate, and it looks like "Death of a Salesman" for Ben.
With age, Ben has become invisible and it isn't setting well with his ego. He doesn't care much whether people like him, as long as he's noticed. His life of seduction and “transactions” (his term for lovemaking) is dwindling. Is a new life on the horizon when his ex-wife (Susan Sarandon) takes pity on him and he's reduced to working in a diner? That's left up to the audience.
The men behind that camera are Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who also co-directed "Knockaround Guys." It's pretty obvious that they're in love with their leading man. Douglas is in virtually every shot, dressed monochromatically in black, and the impact is impressive. Koppelman also scripted the movie and skillfully crafted a character study of a despicable guy whom you can't help but like.
It's as though "Solitary Man" was conceived solely for the benefit of displaying the genius that lurks within Douglas. Let's face it, Douglas has done some fairly schlocky stuff in the not-too-distant past (i.e. "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" and "You, Me and Dupree"). But his portrayal of Ben Kalmen will go down in filmmaking history. It's that role which every actor dreams about playing; the one that defines you as being extraordinary at your craft.
— Pam Nadon