Big Ups for ‘Detective Downs’
Norwegian P.I. at Fantastic Fest updates the gumshoe tradition
By Marjorie Baumgarten, 5:20PM, Mon. Sep. 23
He wears a trench coat and fedora. With a cigarette dangling between his lips, he walks down seedy urban streets where johns and prostitutes do their coarse dance in the shadows cast by streetlights. He has a tiny office, ads in the paper, but no clients. And without any cases to solve, can he really call himself a private investigator?
Although we may call ourselves anything we desire, that doesn’t necessarily make it so. On the rare occasion his phone rings, Robert Bogerud (Svein André Hofsø) always loses the potential clients once they meet him in person and instantly recognize that he is someone with Down syndrome. They think a cruel trick has been played on them and fail to see how Robert could be the private investigator they are looking for. They wonder if this gumshoe can even tie his own shoes. It turns out that Robert and his unusual methods have a tenacity and directness that might benefit the client. And, he also has some hidden and unexpected talents that reveal themselves as the film progresses. (Robert’s dance routine can only be described as transcendent.)
Out of the blue one day, an attractive and well-bred woman sweeps into his office (which is actually his bedroom in the group home where he lives – something that proves a turnoff to other potential clients). She hires Robert to find her missing husband. Obvious to all except Robert is that she’s hired him specifically because she doesn’t want her spouse – a well-known speed-skating champion (and lesser-known con man) – to be found. But the surprise is on her when she discovers Robert’s unusual technique, which is to develop an empathetic understanding of the victim by assuming his life. Robert’s insinuation of himself into her life (and bed) and into the lives of her two grown children yields clues.
Robert brings his findings to his father, a detective, who is annoyed with what he views as his son’s charade. Ever since his wife’s death, he’s been more comfortable with Robert living at a remove in the group home. But Robert perseveres – and ultimately triumphs. He even discovers all the missing skater’s secrets, which involve a transgressive world of fetishes, penile pumps, and cross-dressing.
Detective Downs belongs to a tradition of onscreen detectives who are regularly underestimated by strangers because of their disabilities: Monk with his OCD, Nick Charles and his dipsomania, and Columbo with his rumpled-jughead routine come instantly to mind. Down syndrome is one of Robert’s character attributes, but not the sum total of who he is. Although the premise of the movie sounds rife with possibilities for mockery, quite the opposite is true. Robert is an admirable and endearing character, ensconced in a sweet, charming, and dare I say, uplifting movie. What is something like this doing at Fantastic Fest, where, between the onscreen blood and gore, you also had the chance to practice your personal marksmanship by shooting wild hogs from the air? I don’t know, but I’m at least glad that no potshots are directed at Detective Downs.
Detective Downs screens again on Tuesday at 8pm and Wednesday at 5:45pm.