THE SINGING DETECTIVE
Review by Gordon Justesen
Robert Downey Jr., Robin Wright Penn, Jeremy Northam, Katie Holmes, Carla Gugino,
Adrien Brody, Jon Polito, Mel Gibson
Director: Keith Gordon
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 108 Minutes
Release Date: March 23, 2004
book…is full of clues."
This past year was
quite a cool little comeback year for Robert Downey, Jr. If you even begin to
doubt it, consider this, two of the actor's recent films, Gothika and The Singing
Detective, are hitting DVD in the same week. I have long felt that Downey
Jr. has been one of the screen's most original and versatile actors since the
late 80s. I've found his every performance to consist of equal instances of
quirkiness and intensity. After all the trials and tribulations he has gone
through in his personal life, including some very unfair treatment by the press,
Mr. Downey Jr., who's clearly a survivor in real life, is still a pure delight
to watch on screen. In addition, his work in The Singing Detective is a prime example of how incredible an actor
The movie, which is
sort of a broken down compilation of an eight hour BBC miniseries, is much
similar to Adaptation in the way it
paints simultaneous events that take place in actual life, as well as a world
created by a tormented writer. The late English playwright Dennis Potter created
the original series and also penned the screenplay for the film. Since Potter
based the material on personal experiences that were troubling him, and having
it all reflected through the lead character in the story, it sort of resembles
the predicament of Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation.
completed the script over a decade ago, and two years prior to his death. It
floated around the scene from that point on, until it caught the eye of director
Keith Gordon, star Downey, Jr., and producer Mel Gibson. The story surrounds the
troubling mind of pulp fictionist Dan Dark (Downey, Jr.), who is placed under
care in a hospital because of severe skin condition he has. His appearance isn't
the only thing troubling him; in fact, it's not even the least of his worries.
Dark's psyche is also fractured at the moment, so much to the point that at
times he can't make a distinction between the people in real life and the
characters he has created in his novels.
imaginings consist of seeing himself portraying the hero detective of his
stories, a private eye gumshoe who also happens to be quite a slick crooner,
hence the title. As part of his literary visions, he sees the femme fatale of
the story played by none other than his ex-wife, Nicola (Robin Wright Penn).
Visions of his mother (Carla Gugino) also find their way into Dan's mind.
Another key player in Dan's world is that of his father's business partner, Mark
Binney (Jeremy Northam). His mental troubles are what persuade doctors to summon
the author to the office of Dr. Gibbons, a psychiatrist played by an incredibly
unrecognizable Mel Gibson.
There are two areas
that Dan, and his troubling mind, concentrates on frequently. In addition to his
literary fantasies, he also reflects on events in his real life childhood,
during which point it is revealed that his mother was having an affair with
Mark. Mark also appears in the literary world as the man having an erotic
encounter with the femme fatale played by the ex wife. In real life, Nicola
cheated on Dan which fully explains his reasons for having the sultry seductress
character reflect her in the story.
As you can probably
gather from reading this review, explaining the world of The Singing Detective isn't exactly an easy one. All you have to
keep in mind is that Dan's mind is in a spiral, and that his literary creations
keep floating in his real life, and people in reality keep finding their ways
into his book, and vice versa. Director Keith Gordon paints a well-conveyed
bizarre atmosphere, complete with some even stranger music numbers which come
into play when ever Dan's mind switches from reality to fantasy. The
Singing Detective is not going to appeal to everyone's taste, but I do give
it credit for being unique and bizarre. Even if you end up enjoying it, you may
find yourself scratching your head a time or two.
quite an eye popping anamorphic offering with this release. The movie is very
keen with a few in-your-face wide angle shots, especially whenever Dan is
experiencing characters from his novel talking to him, or his head to be more
precise. There is a heavy use of lighting in many shots, which all turn up
incredible. Despite a brief moment of soft imagery in a couple of darkly lit
scenes, this is an overall expertly done presentation.
The 5.1 mix pays
off extraordinarily well in a number of areas. As I mentioned before, the movie
includes a few spontaneous music numbers, all of which are delivered in a most
sharp tone of sound. Plus, a couple instances of gunfights come off with some
strong presence. Dialogue and additional music are both handled very well.
Despite not much rear channel usage, this is a most pleasant sounding release.
Included is a
commentary track by director Keith Gordon, and a couple of bonus trailers.