The Singing Detective (2003) Keith Gordon

Production Budget: $8 million

Gross: $336,000

The Singing Detective is based on a BBC miniseries of the same name. The plot is about a writer of failed detective stories is laid up in the hospital with a chronic skin condition called psoriatic arthropathy. It causes legions and sores to form all over the body and crippling the hands and feet. He chooses not to use any pain medication and the pain is so bad he retreats into the world of his first book The Singing Detective. The writer’s real life is troubled (he has issues in his past) and several figures from his real life show up in his fantasy world. The writer then sees a psychologist to help him with his troubled past. It should be noted in this summary I simply say “the writer” because in the BBC version he is Phillip Marlowe and in the American version he is Dan Dark.

The miniseries has been considered one of the most influential British films ever made. Now I saw this many years ago (so admittedly my memories are not as fresh) however I wasn’t really blown away by it. Oh it was good, but not as good as it was hyped up to be. The long and the short of it is I am not some fanboy or extremely attached to the original source material (which was one of the bigger gripes by critics).

Despite the negative reviews, I rather liked this movie. Robert Downey Jr. is one of the first people I would think of when playing this role. He is a prototypical dick but is also cool and can show off his acting chops. This movie really is carried by the main character and they cast it well. My only gripe is that Downey has many singing scenes (singing many hits from the 50’s) but this is some of the worst dubbing ever in the history of cinema. You have Downey’s naturally lower register voice and then he we cut to him lip synching some falsetto male singer from the 50’s. It really is horrendous. The supporting cast also does a good job including Adrian Brody and a nice addition from a heavily makeup’d Mel Gibson.

Now the plot is very reduced. You go from over 300 minutes to about 104 minutes. Obviously you are going to miss some character development, some better transitions, and some extra plot elements. Of course, I’m the one heretical dick who has to think 300 minutes was way too long to spend with this particular story. I prefer to think the perfect time is somewhere in the middle. As it is, the story is a little rushed and we practically blow through what should be big bombshells in character back story.

The story has a few changes to it but the spirit is still the same. Dan for some reason wants to suffer through this condition and is extremely distrusting of women. It is through the mystery story and some flashbacks that we piece it all together. The framing of the story works well and, as I said earlier, Downey does a great job selling who really is rather unlikable dick.

I won’t go as far as say this movie is better than the miniseries. However, it is a nice primer if you are not familiar with it. Some people may not feel like investing over 300 minutes and this is a nice place to start. On its own, The Singing Detective is good movie and dare I say worth a shot if you were at all interested.


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