Director-cowriter Sachs takes an unusually intimate look at a 10-year relationship in this beautifully shot and performed New York drama. The film has been compared to 2011's British break-out hit Weekend, but only partly because it centres on a gay couple. What makes both films notable is the way they tackle serious issues in the context of a relationship, keeping the focus tightly on complex characters who behave like real people we can identify with.
The story starts in 1998 New York, as aspiring Danish documentary filmmaker Erik (Lindhardt) fails to overcome his loneliness by using chat-lines to meet random strangers for sex. Then he meets the lawyer Paul (Booth), and their encounter evolves into a relationship. Over the next decade, Paul is frustrated by Erik's casual approach to his slow-developing career, while Erik becomes increasingly worried about Paul's casual drug use. As this boils over into full-on addiction, Erik turns to his sister (Steen) and his close friend Claire (Nicholson) for help with an intervention. But are drugs the real problem? And even if Paul goes through rehab, can their relationship survive?
Intriguingly, Sachs never lets this turn into a drug-addiction drama, carefully exploring much deeper issues without ever being preachy about it. Everything is presented as matter-of-fact, just part of life, and even the addiction problem is only an obstacle for Erik and Paul to deal with in their life together. Both Lindhardt and Booth bring a stunning transparency to their roles, keeping the characters likeable even when they do awful things to each other. Since we see everything through Erik's eyes, Lindhardt's role is much beefier, and it's also infused with his European sense of humour.
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But the worthy story is packed with scenes that are suspenseful and inspiring.
Sam Childers (Butler) is at the end of his rope: just out of prison, still caught up in a wasted criminal life with pal Donnie (Shannon), and neglecting his wife Lynn (Monaghan) and their daughter Paige (Campos, then Carroll). Then at rock-bottom, Lynn's faith gets through to him, and he changes his life.
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Sam Childers is a drug dealing biker whose main method of getting what he wants is violence. His life mirrors that of a 'Hells Angels' member and he admits that he isn't proud of his actions, even breaking down in front of his Christian wife, Lynn. In response to his cries for help, Lynn takes Sam to church, where he suddenly feels uplifted again. His preacher tells him about families in Sudan that need urgent care and Sam volunteers to travel there.
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A film that almost dares you to call it "heartwarming," makes you regret even thinking the term, and then finally creeps up on you in a way that is, indeed, heartwarming, before it then becomes heartbreaking, Goodbye Solo makes striking cinema out of that hoariest of clichés -- the unlikely friendship. Bahrani and his co-writer Bahareh Azimi start the film in mid-sentence, with the irascible old codger in the back seat of a cab driving through the Winston-Salem night, barking at the grinning Senegalese driver, "Why are you laughing?" As we'll soon come to discover, the first part of an answer to the old man's question is that laughter is the default modus operandi for the driver, a blithe spirit by the name of Solo (the ridiculously charming Souléymane Sy Savané, with a grin like a glass of ice tea on a hot day).
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