Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes purposely does not try to fulfill anybody's traditional expectations for a Sherlock Holmes movie. This is wise, as Sherlock is one of the most iconic and frequently portrayed characters in popular culture. Yet, it still manages to be clearly a proper enough Holmesian adventure, leaving room for some predictable Hollywood-ization.

And since Batman, James Bond and even Jason Bourne, along with a raft of Jason Statham movies, have introduced urban parkour and rapid-fire editing of such as an essential element of the modern action-adventure, this film does the same for Holmes, mostly quite successfully.

There are a number of entertaining sequences here which eliminate the need for long boring explanations of clues and information by combining thought or spoken narration with slowed-down, speeded-up or rewound action to orient us in Holmes's headspace.

And Robert Downey, Jr., is a pretty inspired choice for Sherlock. He plays him as more rumpled, disorganized, drugged out or off-in-space than the usual, but still always sharp and thinking steps ahead, perhaps partially inspired by TV's current reigning Sherlock version, "House, M.D." The relationship between Downey as Sherlock and Jude Law as Watson should also seem somewhat familiar to fans of House and Wilson on that show. At least it shows the filmmakers are up-to-date and open to new interpretations. Holmes and Watson are the quintessential bachelor adventurers and college-roommates-long-past-graduation in this version.

Holmes likes it that way, but Watson seems restive, indeed, on his way out the door, due to his impending marriage to governess Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly).

But a wrinkle in their last case, which ended with the execution of the criminal they captured, supervised by Dr. Watson, keeps them working together for at least a little longer. It seems the hanged man is no longer dead.

Here is where I groaned inside, supernatural elements in Holmes stories are plenty, but I feared the worst, that they would overtake and subsume the tone of a good mystery. They do, a little bit, but not too egregiously, and they are handled with some good detail, wit and invention so that they do not drag Sherlock too far in the direction of anti-logic, which would have been very wrong.

I found the acting strong and entertaining, with an easy rapport and humor between Downey and Law, as well as between Downey and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, an American adventuress who is the only woman who ever bested Holmes.

Overall, this Sherlock is aces, a bit shallow but still exploiting everything interesting about the character and his lore without ever getting bogged down or seriously violating the spirit of the great detective. It's a good beginning for a Downey Holmes franchise which is promised within this film, and I hope it blooms a bit darker and more faithfully in tone in the next film, more like The Dark Knight followed Batman Begins than like Quantum of Solace followed Casino Royale.

3-20-10


Links for Sherlock Holmes

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review

Official Site

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