Michael Douglas has the Midas touch when it comes to mighty failures. Sure, his most iconic role, Wall Street’s Gordon “Greed is good” Gekko, is the embodiment of an era’s excessive success. But the 65-year-old movie star really seems engaged only when portraying destroyed, defeated men. You can keep your repentant husbands and righteous heroes; we’d much rather take his downward-spiraling spouse in The War of the Roses and his unraveling college professor in Wonder Boys, a peerless take on muddled, middle-aged white-guy malaise. He knows how to turn losers into beautifully tarnished gold.
Add Solitary Man’s Ben Kalmen to his greatest-shits gallery. Once, this car-dealership magnate had it all: a loving family, booming lots, the world by the cajones. Then Kalmen’s doctor gives him a scare—those EKG results seem odd—and poof! Faced with his mortality, this former golden boy leaves a trail of pathetic philandering, broken promises and dodgy business deals in his wake. A compulsive seduction of his girlfriend’s teenage daughter (Poots) seals Kalmen’s fate; soon, even admirers like a nerdy college student (the ubiquitous Eisenberg; see story) tire of his hedonistic immaturity.
Watching the way Douglas bounces his curdled, caddish charm against a well-chosen cast (Danny DeVito, Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer), you can almost forgive how directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien fall short of turning this into Wonder Boys Redux. It’s neither the final word nor the most eloquent statement on the evil that broken men do. It is, however, a truly impressive portrait of self-destructive, smooth-talking alpha males, and a testament to an actor who waltzes across that Peter Pan--syndrome tightrope with the greatest of sleaze.—David Fear
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