Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Published by The Massie Twins
Release Date: December 25th, 2009 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Guy Ritchie Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan
veryone has their own preconceived notions of what Sherlock Holmes should be like. This wasn’t ours. One of the major staples of the mystery genre is noticeably absent from this latest reincarnation of the renowned British sleuth. Rather than chasing after “whodunit,” viewers already know from the trailers and the opening scene who the villain is – and they will be reduced to discovering “howhedidit.” Or at least, learning from Holmes the scientific reasoning behind the illusory crimes, since the audience is privy to practically all the killings. This over-modernized version of the detective retains the 1800s London backdrop, but little else feels familiar, though the fast-paced, biting dialogue between the leads recalls most of director Guy Ritchie’s previous efforts (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch,” “RocknRolla”). Few would probably envision the great Sherlock Holmes resorting to fisticuffs in an underground boxing ring, fending off black magic practitioners, and dueling with swords and hammers in heavy CG playgrounds. We certainly didn’t.
After finally catching serial killer and occult “sorcerer” Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), legendary sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Jude Law) can close yet another successful case. But when Blackwood mysteriously returns from the grave and resumes his killing spree, Holmes will take up the hunt once again. Contending with his partner’s new fiancée (Kelly Reilly) and the dimwitted head of Scotland Yard (Eddie Marsan), the dauntless detective must unravel the clues that will lead him into a twisted web of murder, deceit, (a ginger midget) and black magic – and the deadly embrace of temptress Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams).
He’s no Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone. He’s a rogue, a scoundrel, a drunkard, unkempt, unclean, and a ruffian, who appears to be in a constant state of bewilderment, portraying an entirely different Sherlock Holmes, with characteristics not found in any previous film or television adaptation. He’s even part Tony Stark. Nevertheless, Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes is an entertaining, witty, quick-thinking observer with a knack for handling physical altercations. But he couldn’t be further from the classic character detailed in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous literature. Similarly, Watson has almost always been older, fatter, and less intelligent; Jude Law’s portrayal is more of an equal. He figures things out for himself, comes to Holmes’ assistance in fights, and roughhouses with the brawniest of thugs.
In what appears to be the first of several films, director Guy Ritchie chooses to “twist the very fabric of nature” with supernatural mysteries. Why can’t Professor Moriarty be the villain, instead of a dark arts witchmaster, who performs the most ridiculous satanic rituals in “The Da Vinci Code” fashion? And why does Blackwood leave so many complex clues for Holmes to discover? It’s never established that the voodoo lord wishes the master detective to keep up in a cat-and-mouse game. With a love interest unlike any seen in a Sherlock Holmes adventure (mainly dominating screentime), boxing rings for the sleuth to brush up on hand-to-hand combat, and overly complex deducing that can only result in lengthy flashback explanation sequences, Ritchie’s version is as foreign to Conan Doyle’s original vision as this year’s “G.I. Joe” was to the line of 6-inch toy soldiers on which that film was based.
– The Massie Twins
As a big fan of both Robert Downey Jr. and director Guy Ritchie my hopes were high for Sherlock Holmes, and it does succeed on some levels, but it never really rises above a one note comedic routine with a mystery at its core. I should also mention I have never read a single word of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novels and have no idea if this adaptation holds true to the source material or deviates drastically. If you’re looking for that kind of commentary I just can’t oblige, but I will say it’s entertaining as a theatrical outing and sets itself up nicely for franchise capabilities. However, in its attempt to kick start a franchise it does feel as if this one is bloated and trying to disguise the fact it’s a bit weak when it comes to story.
The film establishes Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) as a highly sought after, yet easily bored detective of quite the eccentric sort. With him is his sidekick Dr. John Watson played by Jude Law. Downey and Law make for an entertaining pair and it is their performances and banter back-and-forth keeping this film from getting too boring, but it also makes for that “one note” element I referred to earlier.
At its core, Sherlock Holmes is a 19th century buddy cop movie. It’s hardly any different than the set up for Lethal Weapon with Watson taking on the role of Danny Glover as the level-headed one interested in retiring from the detective business and Sherlock is Mel Gibson, the eccentric one that just gets things done, but not without making a mess. The bond formed between the two culminates in a very well done scene late in the film, but everything the two get involved in just isn’t that interesting.
Holmes soon finds himself engaged in a case dealing with the villainous Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Blackwood dabbles in black magic and following his recent hanging has risen from the dead and is attempting to take over the country with his diabolical plan. Mu hu ha ha haaa! None of this feels new and for as adventuresome and entertaining as Watson and Holmes are as a duo, the action sequences never seem to live up to the lead in as Holmes finds obvious satisfaction in the challenge presented by his resurrected foe.
I’ve heard some complaints regarding Sherlock’s use of action and hand-to-hand combat. Apparently there seems to be a disagreement on just how much of a physical force Sherlock was in Doyle’s stories, because he is quite capable here. Ritchie has also brought his signature editing style to the proceedings taking the opportunity to not only show off Holmes’s talent as a martial artist, but to also show how his superior intellect plays a role in his winning moves. It’s an interesting approach, but it almost felt old before I even saw it played out to completion.
The highlight is undoubtedly Downey and Law as a detective team — as it should be. This is actually the kind of role I love seeing Jude Law in, one where he gets to have some fun and show off a rather interesting bit of comedic timing. He’s got a unique look and I think it plays well in conjunction with Downey’s rather over-the-top and erratic portrayal of Holmes.
Mark Strong wasn’t given much to work with as Blackwood. To tell you the truth it was a character that never really felt all that menacing, especially considering the threat he was said to have posed. Holmes never seemed concerned or worried about Blackwood as much as he was merely curious as to how he was pulling of all of his “tricks.” As a result, each scene felt like a simple stepping stone to figuring out a puzzle the audience is never much made a part of. While I was never ahead of the game, I was never thinking there was much at stake, which eliminated most of the tension.
If you’re wondering about Rachel McAdams, she plays an important role in the film, but I would never say she was used to the fullest. The only characters that even remotely seem fully fleshed out are Holmes and Watson and while they are the primary leads of the feature, the fact their opponents and allies can’t match up is a problem.
I would say if you are interested in seeing Sherlock Holmes then by all means check it out in theaters. There is enough spectacle and back-and-forth between Holmes and Watson to make it worthwhile. Just don’t set your hopes too high. I have a hard time believing people will come out of the film and say they weren’t entertained, but I think many will say it doesn’t live up to the billing or initial expectations. Here’s to hoping the sequel will change all that.