December 27, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Robert Downey recreates that time he
broke into his neighbor's house.

Grade: B

Director: Guy Ritchie

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, and Eddie Marsan

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2 hour, 8 minutes

Guy Ritchie’s kinetic update might not be “your father’s Sherlock Holmes,” but it’s a lot closer to your great-great grandfather’s. The reimagining of Holmes actually took place throughout the 20th century on film and television with Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett’s beloved portrayals of Holmes as an over-mannerly sleuth in the Masterpiece Theater mold.

While Ritchie’s frenzied filmmaking style is strictly mod, his Sherlock Holmes is patterned more after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s complex, flawed literary incarnation. As narrated by his partner and friend Dr. John Watson, Holmes is an intellectual eccentric with a massive ego, eager to foil his criminal prey but mistrusting of the police. He is a skilled bare-knuckle brawling, has significant vices, including cocaine and morphine addictions, and possibly suffers from Bipolar disorder.

These traits inform Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, ably played by Robert Downey Jr., although the film does not dwell on Holmes’ dark side. Still, it is replete with Downey’s trademark idiosyncrasies – at this point, it is difficult to decide whether Downey’s personal travails inform his performances or merely steer his choice of roles. Regardless, his breezy Holmes keeps matters light and captivating throughout the film’s many saggy spots.

Set in London of 1891, the film’s original story opens with Holmes and Watson (Jude Law) apprehending the murderous, mystical Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), then later scrambling to track him down again after he apparently uses his knowledge of the black arts to rise from the dead and reanimate a secret society bent on world domination, called the Temple of the Four Orders.

Along the way, Holmes is reacquainted with Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), an American grifter described – as in Conan Doyle’s books – as the only woman to outwit and, thereby, intrigue Holmes. While Adler’s appearance is a welcome nod the Holmes canon, Downey and McAdams share bare-bones onscreen chemistry.

On the other hand, the film’s most layered relationship is the bromance between Holmes and Watson, who Law portrays not as Nigel Bruce’s bumbling oaf, but as a curious, capable companion who has aspirations of his own – including impending nuptials to Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly) that Holmes aims to thwart. In Holmes, the buttoned-down Dr. Watson finds an outlet to quench his thrill-seeking thirst instead of his own dormant gambling addiction, while Holmes placates Watson’s nascent deductive abilities because he values the presence of his loyal ally.

While not an origin story, Sherlock Holmes borrows narrative elements from Batman Begins, including setting the stage for revealing the hero’s definitive foe in the inevitable sequel – here, it is a faceless Professor Moriarty. However, when Holmes begins to squat and hallucinate in the middle of pentagrams and deciphering ancient spells and map patterns to predict where the killer will strike next, the script devolves into a Victorian-era version of The Da Vinci Code.

Still, when Holmes finally provides the obligatory “big reveal” during a fight atop the still-under construction Tower Bridge, there isn’t a corresponding “big cheat”; rather, most of the answers have been in front of you all along. While the film’s coda feels perfunctory and Ritchie’s editing is choppy at best, it is small distraction from Downey’s humorous, spot-on performance, Law’s capable supporting turn, and Ritchie’s manic, steampunk rendering of 19th century London. No, this isn’t your father’s Sherlock Holmes. Thankfully, it’s elementary that it might be your kids’.

Neil Morris

1 comment:

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