Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Singing Detective

Year: 2003
Director: Keith Gordon
Screenplay: Dennis Potter
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robin Wright Penn, Jeremy Northam, Katie Holmes, Adrien Brody, Jon Polito and Mel Gibson
Running Time: 109 minutes
Genre: Drama, crime, thriller, mystery, musical, fantasy

Summary: In the present day United States, Dan Dark (Downey Jr.) is an author of pulp detective stories centering around the character of the "Singing Detective", a private detective in the 1950s who moonlights as a singer in a rock 'n' roll band. Dark is in hospital with severe psoriasis and is in constant pain and unable to move. To escape his situation he reworks the plot of his first book, imagining himself as the Singing Detective and people from his own life as the characters. In the hospital he often escapes into surreal musical fantasies and experiences disturbing memories of his childhood. As Dark's paranoia and bitterness increase, reality and fantasy begin to collide.

Opinions: This film is an adaptation of Dennis Potter's controverisal and hugely acclaimed 1986 miniseries The Singing Detective. The movie attempts the almost impossible task of effectively condensing a six hour television series into a one hour forty nine minute movie. The film updates the story from 1980s England to 2003 USA, and the fantasy sequences (and musical numbers) are updated from the 1940s to the 1950s also the name of the lead character is changed from Philip Marlowe (played by Michael Gambon) in the original. Dennis Potter, who died in 1994, had been very enthusiastic about the idea of a film version and the script had been circulating around Hollywood for a long time with various directors including Robert Altman and David Cronenberg, and actors such as Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino attached at different times.
The thing is that despite the film being savaged by critics, it isn't really all that bad, it's fast moving and entertaining with most of the themes and incidents of the original cropping up, it also features some good performances from a talented cast (including Mel Gibson looking almost unrecognisable as a bald psychiatrist). The problem is that it feels rushed. Lacking the time that the TV series had, various parts of the story just feel rushed, for example the "Singing Detective" mystery just seems abandoned part way through and the childhood memories which are a key part of the story or reduced to just a few brief scenes. The thing is that the film is frustrating because so much of the show survives that it just makes you miss the show.
By the way, if you've never seen the 1986 series dio yourself a favour and check it out as soon as possible.

"There are things in that book, doc, that are reaching out to grab me by the throat."
- Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.) in The Singing Detective

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