The Singing Detective

Adrien as “first hood.”

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robin Wright, Jeremy Northam, Katie Holmes, Mel Gibson, Carla Gugino, Alfre Woodard, Saul Rubinek, Adrien Brody, Jon Polito

Written by: Dennis Potter (based on the television series of the same name)

Directed by: Keith Gordon

Genre: Dark Comedy, Crime, Musical… also sort of Film Noir

Running Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Release: January 17, 2003 (Sundance Film Festival)

MPAA Rating: R


Robert Downey Jr. stars as Dan Dark, a writer being treated for the physical and emotional challenges of a rare skin condition. He basically lives a second [imagined?] life as an alter-ego based upon his books: The Singing Detective (hence the title). It’s part film noir, part musical (though, no one actually sings, they lip sync to classic tunes), part comedy, part tragedy, part very… unique story. Downey does very well in both roles, as one would expect. I’ve yet to see him give a disappointing performance.

Fun fact:

The Singing Detective‘s director, Keith Gordon was once an actor. You may remember him as (main character) Arnie in the possessed anthropomorphic car thriller, Christine. At least, that’s where I best remember him. I think having a director who also acts is really great, because they know about the process and how to motivate people.

Adrien’s Role: “First Hood”

Adrien Brody has what would be a small part (“First Hood”), but since he’s not a small actor, he is memorable. He plays one (along with the late, great character actor, Jon Polito) of the two gangster-type characters who follow the main character throughout his life: both real and imagined. Adrien is actually one of the first to speak in the film (he may be the first, I’m not recalling right now).

He’s a joy to see sprinkled throughout the film, and he has some great moments. I’ve said it before, but it really is a shame more people don’t realize how naturally comedic Adrien is. People seem to think of him as only dramatic and cerebral.

What I Liked

The musical numbers are a lot of fun, Mel Gibson does a fantastic job of becoming a character he barely resembles, Robin Wright (of The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump, and House of Cards fame) is solid as always. Jeremy Northam as an additional alter-ego of the Downey character is also very enjoyable. I’ve seen Northam in many things over the years, but never knew his name before this.

Favorite Scene

Hands down, the scene where Brody and Downey actually get to interact. Most of Adrien’s screentime is spent with the younger version of Downey’s character, so it’s quite a treat to see them together. It’s a brief encounter, really, but I adore it.

What I Didn’t Like

Some of the sexuality is a little… much. Wow, I sure come across as a prude in these reviews, don’t I? Always mentioning the times there’s too much profanity or sex. Ha ha. There really isn’t a lot to complain about here, so I’m going with that.

In Closing

It is a unique movie that blends the musical and film noir genres quite effectively. Definitely not like anything I’d seen before or since. I recommend it.


Movie Overall: 6/10
Brody Performance: 8/10 (I know that seems high for a side character, but he was really good here)



Author: Patricia Henderson

Patricia Henderson is a 40-something from Northern California. She has loved both movies and writing since she was a child, so this was a logical choice.

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