Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Movie Review: "Sherlock Holmes" (2009) by David Pretty

Greetings, Amateur Sleuths!

The behind-the-scenes doc on the DVD for Sherlock Holmes makes a pretty convincing case that the titular character wasn't all about deerstalker caps, pipes, trench coats, magnifying glasses and blurting out "The Game's Afoot!" every twenty minutes.  Having said that, I still think I would have preferred a bit more sleuthing and less fisticuffs.

See how many reviews clues you can spot in the film's admittedly crackerjack trailer:

The story begins as the eponymous Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) prevent an occult murder in the catacombs below London and capture the arch-villain Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong).  Before Blackwood is executed he boasts to Holmes that he'll soon rise from the grave to oversee three more killings that will alter the order of the world.  The fiend is summarily hanged and Watson himself pronounces him dead.

Sure enough, not long after, Blackwood's crypt door is broken open from the inside and his body goes missing.  Things are further complicated when an American con artist / potential rival / love interest for Holmes named Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) appears on the scene with dubious motivations to track down a missing man.  This sends our dynamic duo back into action as they reveal a convoluted plot filled with conspiracies, secret societies, and the apparent fusion of sorcery and science in the form of a terrible weapon.

Now, I understand the producers wanted to revitalize the character for a modern audience, but I feel their main motivation was to spotlight hyper-kinetic action over deduction and reasoning.  The rare scenes with Holmes piecing together clues almost seems like an afterthought amidst all the pitch melees, running gun battles, explosions and racing carriages.  Having said that, director Guy Ritchie realizes his interpretation with full conviction and I couldn't help but be pulled along.

Robert Downey Jr. overcomes any trepidations about his suitability for the role by turning in another bravura performance and employing a veddy proper British accent likely honed during his days on Chaplin.  Here his unearthly powers of observation are played almost as a curse rather then a blessing.  As a result, the Holmes we see in this film is more of an oddball bohemian than a stodgy, procedural analyst from past versions.  Ritchie employes a rather clever "bullet time" effect every time his hero's abilities come into play, which gives us a great visual interpretation of how quickly and keenly the character's mind works.

I also like Jude Law's take on the role of Watson, who mercifully isn't just an oblivious oaf who sole purpose is to ask incessantly dumb questions on behalf of the audience.  This particular Watson is a military veteran, adept at hand-to-hand combat and also a highly-skilled field physician, all of which add up to a practical raison d'être.  Their partnership  makes considerably more sense than in previous film iterations and their skills complement each other like a Victorian-era superhero team.

The banter between the two is also considerably funnier and more natural than what was on display in Iron Man 2, but a great deal of credit has to go to the deft touch of screen-writers Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg.  Only Rachel McAdams, who is admittedly fetching, comes across as distractingly contemporary.  Mark Strong's Lord Blackwood is an appropriately powerful presence who mercifully avoids the mustache-twirling flavor of cliche villainy.

The action is well-staged with a final set-piece that ends up on a half-constructed Tower Bridge.  Now I realize that the actors were likely fighting on a CGI construct but the effects are quite convincing.  I honestly have no idea if Guy Ritchie's claim that his version of Sherlock Holmes is actually more faithful to the original source material then previous films, never having read the books myself.  But there's enough mystery-solving, good performances and derring-do here to keep me entertained all the while piquing my interest in reading one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original works.

And let's face it, folks, that not the worst thing a film can inspire you to do.

Tilt: up.

1 comment:

  1. I liked this movie as the movie attempted to be faithful to the canon. Downey Jr makes a very interesting Sherlock Holmes.