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- Movie: Sherlock Holmes
- Rating: PG-13
- Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min.
- Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, William Houston, and Kelly Reilly
- Written By: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Pekcham and Simon Kinberg
- Directed By: Guy Ritchie
- Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Sherlock Holmes Movie Review
The Game's Afoot Again in Sherlock Holmes.
By Rob Vaux
December 22, 2009
Sherlock Holmes returns to cinema for Robert Downey Jr.
© Warner Bros. Pictures
As Roger Ebert once observed, there's no better way to pique our interest than showing a smart character being smart… and they don't get much smarter than Sherlock Holmes. Portraying his brilliance depends upon a proper sense of logic and a way of illustrating his observational skills in an accessible manner. Director Guy Ritchie achieves that in the first five minutes of his excellent new film. Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) needs to dispatch a thug standing between him and a damsel in distress. In an instant, he notes the man's physical vulnerabilities, devises a means of exploiting them, and launches a devastating series of blows that drop him like a load of bricks.
Some may accuse the sequence of being unduly action oriented, and indeed it shows the telltale signs of Ritchie's previous gangster-based oeuvre. But it remains solidly connected to Arthur Conan Doyle's original work, both in terms of Holmes's intellect and in the way he applies it.
Doyle described Holmes as an expert boxer, a trait rarely seen in the movies but which Ritchie uses to place his own unique stamp on the character. Indeed, while Sherlock Holmes constitutes an entirely original adventure, it is so deeply steeped in the source material that it might have been penned by Doyle himself. That Ritchie blends it so well with his personal filmmaking sensibilities speaks volumes about the care and attention paid to the project.
Downey, too, brings a sense of the personal to Sherlock Holmes. The detective's intelligence goes hand in hand with his self-destructive qualities--the ego, the drug addiction, the cheerful disdain for societal priorities--which Downey understands far better than most. His Holmes lacks the clichéd trappings of the character (there's no deerstalker cap or Meerschaum pipe here), but in many ways constitutes the most faithful version since Jeremy Brett's performances in the 1980s.
Jude Law's Dr. Watson is somewhat more dynamic, with a renewed emphasis on his military background and a relationship with Holmes akin to a partnership rather than the hero-sidekick arrangement which most interpretations provide. He and Downey maintain the chemistry of two men who have shared so many experiences that they practically move as one. Watson's impending marriage threatens to end their collaboration, creating nascent feelings of jealousy in Holmes and lending their easy grace the right amount of tension to keep things popping.
Watson also provides an excellent bridge between the source material and the rough-and-tumble action plot into which Ritchie casts us. Our Heroes find themselves arrayed against the maniacal Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a thinly-veiled Freemason who has embraced black magic and intends to use it to seize control of the Empire. After seemingly rising from the dead, he sends London in a frenzy of superstitious panic, while daring Holmes' clockwork rationality to stem the rising tide.
Ritchie peppers the proceedings with plenty of fights, chases and derring-do, rendered in a fiercely kinetic style that fully embraces 21st century sensibilities. Yet he does so with a remarkable amount of intelligence as well. There's a mystery afoot--a bit pulpier than Doyle perhaps, but definitely in keeping with his spirit--and Ritchie doesn't skimp on the tiny incidental details which Holmes ferrets out en route to his quarry. Sherlock Holmes also plays up the conflict between science and superstition quite well, evoking classic stories like The Hound of the Baskervilles without attempting to eclipse or infringe upon them.
The only shortcoming in the proceedings is Rachel McAdams' Irene Adler (aka "The Woman" for those familiar with Doyle), a thief and adventuress with nebulous connections to one of the series' other key figures. The actress seems game, but Ritchie doesn't quite know what to do with her, and her scenes constitute a palpable drag on the proceedings. Watson's fiancé Mary (Kelly Reilly) does better, though she's still just sideline material. Sherlock Holmes retains a Boys' Own quality to it, but while the female figures don't quite fit, they could have easily joined in the fun more readily had the script approached them with care.
As it stands, however, that remains an incidental issue at worst. The remainder of the film is a palpable joy: exciting, flashy, and bubbling with fun at a time of year when stodgy Oscar bait is the order of the day. Ritchie's cockney look at London's underworld finds a intriguing new permutation here--respectful of its source without feeling bound to it, and helping Downey continue the momentum built up by Iron Man. Sherlock Holmes demonstrates how its titular figure has endured for so long, and serves notice that Baker Street's most famous inhabitant will be with us well into the new millennium.
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