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Well-Acted but incoherent
on March 25, 2004
Dan Dark, writer of noir, Raymond Chandler-esque Detective fiction is suffering from a severe skin condition that has made him virtually a prisoner in his own body. Mentally, he dwells in the realm of his novel, The Singing Detective, where he is a suave, hard-boiled yet sensitive PI. When forced to interact with the real world, Dark is obnoxious, angry and abusive. When his condition fails to improve, his doctor prescribes psychotherapy. Using his book as a key to his past, his therapist hopes to unlock Dark's subconcious and set him on the road to healing.
There were several good things about this movie. The concept had a great deal of potential to be depthful and interesting. The film-making was pretty interesting. The performances were remarkable and Mel Gibson's make-up job was astounding. But the movie as a whole didn't work for me because the overall story lacked a coherent dynamic structure. The pieces worked, but they didn't fit together and I felt that some of them were missing. I don't mind having to fill in a few blanks in a movie, but in _The Singing Detective_ I had the constant and unpleasant feeling that I wasn't quite sure what was going on.
The movie moves through three storylines: the real world of Dan Dark in the hospital, the fantasy world of Dan Dark, The Singing Detective, and the memory world of Dark's childhood. I didn't think the Detective world was given enough attention. The story that was happening there was not entirely clear and there was little internal logic. This frustrated me because it seemed to me that the detective world was supposed to be the place where the other two worlds met. But since it had no solidity, it was only a tenuous bridge and the viewer was left to make up a lot. I would have liked it better if the filmmaker had chosen to spend more time with the detective world and less time in the hospital. Also, far too much time and detail was spent in Dark's memories. By the time we got to the big revelation scene, it was redundant because we already knew what Dark was going to say. There was no sense of climax, and the closure seemed contrived.
The murky story was muddied even further by a subplot that seemed to deal with Dark's paranoia about his present day life. I think this could have been left out. Often there was no clear distinction made between what was really happening in the present-day world and what wasn't. All in all, the film had such a surreal feel that, not only was it difficult to tell what was going on, it was difficult to care.
Watching _The Singing Detective_ was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that have intersting shapes but, when joined, give a picture of a Rorshach ink blot. What the viewer gets out of it is probably his own business. What I got was bored.