gumshoeGumshoe tells the story of a run-out-of-luck sap from Liverpool called Eddie Ginlay – hitting 31, living alone, small-time bingo caller and noir-fiction aficionado for years trying unsuccessfully to make out as a nightclub comic. As far as the man’s social life goes, his woman was stolen by his wealthy brother a year earlier and his constant Sam Spade-like manner of communicating with people makes them think he’s not right in the head, or at best a poor joker.

Ultimately, even Eddie himself has a mocking way of looking at his life-style. He puts a half-serious advertisement in the paper to appear the day of his birthday, describing himself as a private investigator. Soon, he gets a call from a potential client asking for a meeting, but it will be a very different kind of a job from what Eddie would expect…

Despite the weird and awkward way Ginley is introduced to his first assignment, it is soon revealed to tackle some truly heavy and PI-brains-demanding stuff. As in the best detective stories, there’s  a certain amount of depth that goes beyond just the mystery-solving. In that aspect, the viewer is presented with an unique mix of down-to-earth realism and a satirical, subtly outrageous look at human desires and actions.

In spite of his seemingly childish attitude and not being taken seriously by people around him, Eddie proves to be remarkably effective in a PI’s role. The hard-boiled methods with all the over-the-top, straight-out-of-fiction feel to them inexplicably work perfectly in the real world. Yet, at the same time, the criminals, despite their cynical mindsets and all the gruesome stuff they do in secret, are so very much ordinary people from up the street.

I must confess it was too confusing for me to understand all the plot connections in a single watching. The movie even seemed almost surrealistic at times. The elusive structure encourages getting lost in uncertain interpretations of events. In the end, I needed to get back to some scenes to fully comprehend, what was the angle of some of the players and what was Eddie’s involvement with them about. However, when one finally puts together all the pieces, it becomes quite straight-forward. Somehow I found that whole long process of figuring everything out delightful.

I guess my confusion was partially a consequence of Eddie’s dialogue being difficult to decipher for me from under the thick British accent and hard-boiled phraseology. Yet of course that’s an important part of what makes the character so fascinating and cool. Albert Finney‘s performance in this role, especially his voice, reminded me a lot of Michael Gambon‘s role in The Singing Detective, but it has also a very nice emulation of Humphrey Bogart woven into it.

All in all, a very great and very British pastiche of hard-boiled detective literature and movies. Has a style of its own and some excellent, whimsical music as well. The director Stephen Frears went later to Hollywood and back, but this (his directorial debut) remains my personal favorite of his (so far).

My Score: 5/5 starps