The Singing Detective

Director: Keith Gordon
Screenwriters: Dennis Potter

Institute History

  • 2003 Sundance Film Festival


There is a lot of risk in undertaking to remake something as superb in its original version as Dennis Potter's TV miniseries, The Singing Detective (1986). But this reimagining for film, an adaptation Potter himself completed shortly before his death, including the creation of a new context for his noirish universe that is set in America, works beautifully in Keith Gordon's jewel of a film. An outstanding performance by Robert Downey, Jr., anchors this psychological drama that mixes, sometimes smashes, disparate genres together to create a combination of a surreal rock 'n' roll musical, expressionist noir thriller, and fevered character study, a work that is wildly original. Mel Gibson, whose company produced and financed this multilayered inquiry into a tortured soul, plays a character different from any you've seen him portray before.

Unsuccessful crime novelist Dan Dark lies in a hospital bed, covered from head to toe with a debilitating psoriasis and wracked by inner torments, drugs, and pain that drive him to conjure up the most paranoid hallucinations of his marriage and fading career. His bitter and sardonic ravings bring him into the eccentric care of Dr. Gibbon (Gibson), who slowly aids the despairing Dark to use his imagination and its creations as a bridge into himself, so he can find resolution. A genuinely brilliant cast—Robin Wright Penn and Katie Holmes are especially notable—distinctive camerawork, and terrific art design all contribute to this unique blend of fantasy and reality that truly transports the viewer to a magical realm.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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