Directed by Guy Ritchie
Released in 2009
A modern reboot of a series of novels made in the late 19th century does not sound like a recipe for success. With Sherlock Holmes, the result is mixed but, for the most part, it succeeds. A likable cast and some neat action give this film momentum, even when it slows down to some problems with acting, editing and screenplay.
Everyone knows the general premise of Sherlock Holmes, though few know much else. Seriously, who between the age of 14 and 25 knows more than there is a guy named Sherlock and Watson? I sure did not and, fortunately, this film is meant for this crowd, introducing all the main characters and their brief histories. The plot centers around a mysterious figure named Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong, who murders five women in bizarre rituals. He is apprehended by Holmes and Watson, performed with much talent by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, respectively, within the first 15 minutes. However, his disappearance proves to be the conflict and the duo uses all of their "not inconsiderable knowledge" to find out who this man really is. Along the way, Holmes encounters an old flame, Irene Adler, given a seductive allure by Rachel McAdams. She is the one criminal who outsmarted Holmes or, perhaps, merely tempted him to the point of disorientation. Nonetheless, her shifting alliances frustrate the duo but end up being useful. The story is okay, nothing too special, but the action is where the film really gets its edge.
Guy Ritchie, the director, is known for intriguing title credits and overly bombastic action scenes rife with explosions. Thankfully, Sherlock Holmes is subdued, if ever so slightly. There is an emphasis on Holmes' attentive approach to problem-solving, shown by how fast he speaks and how he is always, unsurprisingly, right. Perhaps the best part of this movie is its combat scenes which take both Holmes' intellect and strength and mash them together. In super slow-motion, Holmes narrates and explains each step in a fight he will take and its result (3 broken ribs, for example). Then, it is played in real time, with plenty of short cuts, and a broken man is on the floor while the crowd watches, mouths agape. It is a very neat feature and is met with a lot of exaggerated facial expressions, crushing audio and ripples on skin once the fist hits it. It only happens twice and I would have welcomed it again. Other action scenes are well choreographed, with the stereotypical "heavy, foreign beast of a man" as a recurring adversary. All of this takes place in an unflattering, gritty version of Victorian England that resembles its influence but lacks any real connection to the time period. Perhaps this was intentional (Sherlock Holmes is not aiming to be a period piece), but it feels like all of the characters could be in modern times if they only dressed differently and drove cars. It is not a real annoyance as much of a peculiar observation. That withstanding, the action is where this film shines and I would have actually welcomed more of the overblown action that Ritchie is known for here.
The acting is surprisingly strong for the leading roles but weak where there's Strong. Bad puns aside, Mark Strong is a fine actor on his own accord but noticeably bad here. He moves his face in strange ways and cloaks himself under a black hood to look menacing. He his hanging from a bridge at one point and I thought back to Christopher Walken in A View To A Kill. That can be seen as a compliment for both of these roles as they are so cheesy that they are good in a strange way. Still, Robert Downey Jr. is excellent, sporting an English accent that can sit comfortably next to Jude Law. Downey has gone from a druggie mess to reformed actor in the last few years, starting with Iron Man, and this new film is another franchise to add to his prestigious belt. It is great hearing about his success and his talent really deserves it. McAdams is also fine in her role; not spectacular but decent, as is Kelly Reilly who plays Watson's fiance. Jude Law himself brings his suave demeanor to Holmes' better half. He is not a pushover, however, as he resorts to brute force usually before Holmes does. All in all, the cast is mixed but the two leads certainly make for a strong ensemble.
There is an occult theme at the center of the storyline and that is where I really have my problems with the movie. You see it in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, but the whole "secret society with mysterious powers" cliche has been done so many times that it is tiring to see it be done here. I will not spoil how the plot turns out but, Holmes' reasoning withstanding, this could have been done without. In addition, the pacing of the film is fine as it moves along but 10 minutes could have been shaved off from the 2 hour, 8 minute runtime to make a tighter, more cohesive package. Writing wobbles from time to time as well. There is a good amount of humor present here but it counters the weak dialogue for the villains and predictable female encounters. The script does a very good job at wrapping up most of the loose ends, however, and Sherlock Holmes really lives up to his namesake by piecing everything together in the end. The other issues are not huge but they certainly deserve to be brought up.
Final Verdict:3 Stars Out of 5