Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

A personal bit first-the first literary character I fell for was Holmes-which was the result of TV showings of the old Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films and seeing Young Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid. So how does this return of the world's greatest detective to the big screen compare?
As the film opens Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and his friend Dr. Watson (Jude Law) has just stopped the latest in a ritualistic slayings of young girls. The killer is revealed as Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who dabbles in the dark arts and is sentenced to hang for his crimes. With that done Holmes feels empty-no major cases and Watson is about to head into marriage. But when Blackwood seemingly rises from the grave Holmes and a reluctant Watson have to stop him from his master scheme-the usual "rock the foundation of the Empire." Complicating matters though is the sudden return of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) the only woman Holmes ever fell for and was outwitted by. Especially when Irene is working for a mysterious employer...

As directed by Guy Ritchie this Holmes is-using the old cliche-not your father's Sherlock. Gone is the guy in the overcoat and deerstalker hat and the usually buffoonish or useless Watson. Instead Ritchie, with help from a good production team-recreates Victorian London and gives Holmes and the viewer a good ride. Most of the film's success is of course Downey who at this point can't seem to make a wrong move. While his accent I'm sure will make some cringe be brings humor and a good physicality to the role. Also and wisely Downey and Ritchie also keep Holmes' ego and off-putting personality that usually goes missing in many other versions. The film's other winning ace is Law. While I was worried when he was first announced he fits Watson well and this can be credited to the writers who don't turn him into a comic character.

But as much fun as the film is it does have some major problems. The biggest one is Lord Blackwood. While Strong does the best he can the character is just not memorable and is rather formulaic. Another problem is the subplot of Blackwood's involvement with a secret sect. In fact the opening scene reminded me of Young Sherlock Holmes and its Egyptian cult. And some of the fight scenes early in suffer from Bourne-itis-too many jump cuts and pans. I miss the old days when fight scenes were designed by stunt coordinators-not editors. And a setup for the sequel can be seen 30 minutes in. I won't give it away but trust me you will figure it out.

In the end this Holmes is a fun film but if there is a sequel (and I'm sure there will be once Downey gets done with The Avengers movie) I hope it fixes some of the faults here. My rating: *** out of 4.

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