Warner Bros./Warner Bros. .
R4 . COLOR . 104 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
"Go ahead, make my day."
Dennis Potterís The Singing Detective explores his first-hand experiences with psoriasis. Originally made into a mini series in 1986, the story is now re-imagined by director Keith Gordon. Potter remains the sole scribe of the story, but Gordonís dark noir-inspired styling illuminates the complex world of Dan Dark in a very different way from the original series.
Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.) writes pulp detective stories. The world of fiction he has created begins to take over his reality when he is bedridden by a debilitating skin condition. His estranged wife Nicola (Robyn Wright Penn) and psychotherapist Dr Gibbon (Mel Gibson) both try and support him, but Danís fantasy life takes over until he cannot distinguish between fact and fiction. His fantasy world provides an escape from the pain he suffers in real life and Dan retreats to the world as often as he can. In his interior world, Dan faces his fears and troubled childhood within a world based on his first novel, The Singing Detective. This world is inhabited by mysterious strangers (all played by Jeremy Northam), bubbling gangsters (Adrien Brody and Jon Polito) and femme-fatales (Robyn Wright Penn and Carlo Gugino). The eclectic mix of film-noir, musical, drama, comedy and fantasy may not always work, but the ultimate result in pure entertainment.
Mel Gibson in Revenge of the Nerds
The Singing Detective is a frustrating film to watch the first time because of its distracting structure. It is difficult not be preoccupied by the jagged nature of the storytelling and try and enjoy the performances as well as the various noir daydreams and musical numbers. In some ways, this is an ingenious film that may not work on many levels, but should be appreciated for the innovative style of Keith Gordonís direction and the fine performances offered from the entire cast.
Just like he is in almost every other film he has ever appeared in, Robert Downey Jr. is marvellous. He handles the complex Dan Dark with a quirky intelligence and portrays every facet of the character with accomplished style and grace. He is strongly supported by an almost unrecognisable Mel Gibson and the always subtle, but effective, Robyn Wright Penn. The remaining members of the cast are delightfully tragic and comedic in their roles, rounding out a well compiled ensemble cast.
The angelic Robyn Wright Penn
The only previous film of Gordon's that I am familiar with is Waking the Dead, which also dealt with blurring the line between what is real and what is not. While both Waking the Dead and The Singing Detective have elements that don't quite work, both films offer moments of pure brilliance and are positively mesmerising, beautiful films.
A detective singing
The Singing Detective is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (although its original aspect ratio is 2.35:1) and is 16:9 enhanced for widescreen displays. The film looks rich and crisp and is only afflicted by one minor imperfection, slight visible aliasing. Otherwise, this is reference standard presentation. Sharpness is excellent and shadow detail is very good, especially considering that some scenes in this film are extremely dark and there could have easily been issues with shadow and highlight details. But the superb transfer presents everything clearly and with exceptional clarity. Colours are equally impressive with rich depth and always realistic skin tones.
The high standard of the visual transfer is repeated with a just as impressive audio mix. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, this clear, problem free mix serves both the dialogue and music exceptionally well. Dialogue is always clear and audible and there are no audio sync issues. Music plays an especially important part in this film and the audio throughout the many different musical tunes, including the cast lip-synching, sounds wonderful. The subwoofer never really springs to life, but direction through surround is excellent and problem free.
Despite the presentation of the film being so impressive, the extras are not.
Cast & Crew Interviews are the only substantial extra available on this release. Interviews with actors Robert Downey Jr, Katie Holmes, Jeremy Northam, Carlo Gugino, Mel Gibson and Jon Polito and director Keith Gordon are included. While the interviews provide interesting insights about the characters and the story, as well as praise for the star and director, the disappointing thing about the interviews is the way they are presented. Each interview is around five minutes long but is edited into smaller clips with the questions presented on title cards, making each clip a small sound bite which makes it difficult to understand and appreciate what each person is saying.
The only other extra is a Theatrical Trailer
It should be pointed out that the Region 1 release of the film contains an audio commentary by director Keith Gordon. His commentaries are always brilliant and his commentary for The Singing Detective is particularly entertaining and insightful. It is inexcusable that the Region 4 doesn't present the film in the correct aspect ratio, but to not include the director's commentary is near criminal.
The noir Jake & the Fatman
I found The Singing Detective much more enjoyable upon a second viewing. Although the style of the film may not appeal to everyone, it is a cherished title in my collection and is definitely worthy of being a part of any DVD collection. This is a film with no equal and I recommend giving the film a chance to weave its magic on your senses.