Volume 16 • Issue 25 |November 18 - 24, 2003


koch on film

“The Singing Detective” (+)
Despite the mostly negative reviews, I decided to see this film for two reasons: One, I think Robert Downey, Jr., is an interesting actor; and second, I saw the 61/2 -hour television series preceding this movie years ago and thought it was one of the best mini-series I had seen in years.

The creator of the television mini-series, Dennis Potter, reworked the television script and created a 1 1/2-hour screenplay. The television series starred Michael Gambon who was magnificent. The current movie is much less impacting than the television version; nevertheless, it is well worth your time. After seeing the film, I recommend that you rent or buy the television DVD version, so that you can compare the two.

The plot involves a writer, Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.), who is hospitalized for psoriasis, a painful skin condition covering his entire body. While in the hospital, fantasies and nightmares involving his early life are reenacted when he lived with his mother Betty (Carla Gugino), who lived with an abusing boyfriend and later became a prostitute. Dan is visited by his disloyal wife, Nicola (Robin Wright Penn), who with her lover, Mark (Jeremy Northam) is plotting to defraud Dan of his money and royalties. He is returned to health by the hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Gibbon (Mel Gibson).

All of the scenes are accompanied by music with the principals in the various scenes, including Downey, lip synching to appropriate tunes. The technique created by Potter is fascinating. Adrien Brody appears in a supporting role as an organized crime fantasy figure out to kill Dan in the hospital. A very funny scene involves the application of lotion in Dan’s groin area by Nurse Mills (Katie Holmes) with not unexpected consequences.  See the film before it closes.

“In the Cut” (+)
This film was universally panned, notwithstanding its outstanding director, Jane Campion, mega star Meg Ryan, and Mark Ruffalo who is always praised by the critics. The bad reviews generally mentioned the denouement as being preposterous, which it is.

The acting, however, is first rate and the seamy scenes of New York, particularly in Manhattan, are interesting. A seamy city is revealed through prostitutes, pimps and even death. In addition, rather than the usual skyscrapers, we are shown the unique water towers that also distinguish the city’s skyline.

The two principal characters are Frannie (Meg Ryan) and Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo). Frannie is a writer and art teacher at a racially-mixed school for difficult students. Detective Malloy is looking into the death of a young woman from Frannie’s neighborhood. The two meet during the investigation and become lovers. Frannie is fearful of a former lover, John Graham (Kevin Bacon), who now stalks her and appears to be a little loony. Bacon is normally a superb actor, but this is not one of his best roles.

Frannie’s sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is a prostitute, and we are never told what led her into that lifestyle. The two women appear in the opening scene of the film. Not knowing they are sisters, one could easily conclude that they are lesbians and lovers.

The movie has a very dark story and is very carnal including a scene of full nudity. Almost every scene crackles with sex both in dialogue and action. Interestingly, the dialogue, intended to be down and dirty, is no different than what is currently heard on the HBO television show “Sex and the City,” an indication of how far we have come.

After reading the negative reviews of this film, I thought I would skip it. But then I read an article in The New York Times Magazine Section extolling Mark Ruffalo’s acting ability and comparing him to the young Marlon Brando, so I decided to see it. I’m glad that I did. Yes, the denouement is ridiculous, but everything else packs a punch.

- Ed Koch


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