Review: SHERLOCK HOLMES
Sherlock Holmes, the principled “consulting detective” created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the late 1800s, is a fictional character whose appearance has spanned generations of motion pictures. Since 1905, he has appeared in over 200 films, and, for that reason alone, it is shocking that he has never been brought to life by mainstream Hollywood in tent pole fashion. In fact, it has been over 20 years since WITHOUT A CLUE, the last time a film featuring the character even hit American theaters. Luckily for us, had it happened sooner, we might not have gotten SHERLOCK HOLMES, an engaging and whirlwind of a film that blazes entertainment from opening to close. It is a grittier look at the character than we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t keep the film from being the most fun movie I’ve experienced in years.
Played by Robert Downey Jr., this latest incarnation of Holmes is a messy and almost indecent man who can’t help but collect facts and data in any situation he finds himself. He has driven his proper and, until now, faithful companion Dr. Watson, played here by Jude Law, to leave their home at 221B Baker Street and find his own life with a loving fiancee. This doesn’t keep adventure and mystery from closing in on them. Their last case, that of a sadistic serial killer named Lord Blackwood, played by the captivating Mark Strong, seems to have come to a close with the capture and eventual hanging of the man. However, Blackwood’s nature in the dark arts, his apparent rising of the grave, and a continuation of the murders pulls Holmes and Watson back into the fold.
This SHERLOCK HOLMES is one that we have never seen before, a more adventurous and run-jump-and-kick type than the methodical and decorous Holmes we’ve seen before. This Holmes is a scrapper, anti-authoritative, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn he solved most of his cases with a couple of cracked ribs. From a screenplay by seemingly a dozen, different people, SHERLOCK HOLMES is a film that very easily could be a train wreck, a film so incomprehensible and choppy in every last detail that it can’t help but elicit awe in the wonderment of its being.
Fortunately, the director pulling all of the elements tightly together here is Guy Ritchie, who knows a thing or two about bringing a number of paths into a cohesive narrative with films like SNATCH and ROCKNROLLA. Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is a wild and bully sort who lives in a gray, muddy, and very CG looking London. Luckily, the computer generated backdrops and set pieces, though not very weighty, lend an airy and blithesome nature to the otherwise dark and gritty course the film takes. In that, this is very much the world where this version of Holmes lives, and, between Ritchie, the environment, and Downey’s outstanding performance, the character is given a light and almost comical aura.
This isn’t to mean this version of Holmes is a bumbler. He is very much in control, and Ritchie shows this from the very get go. There are moments where, in ultra slow motion and voiceover narration, we are shown Holmes’ course of action. Whether he is searching the scene of a crime or engaging in a night of drunken boxing and gambling, he plots out every move, and this is shown to us on more than one occasion. Then, when reality catches up with the planning, it all comes together in perfect fashion. Ritchie utilizes this technique to pure brilliance and just the right amount, as well. We get it here and there, but only enough and early enough to get us into the mind of Holmes. From there, action happens and theories are deduced without the crutch, but we now know how it all works. Too much would have been pandering. Too little would have left us without the belief in Holmes’ sense of control. This aspect of the film is absolute in its solidity.
So, too, is the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Ritchie is no stranger to this level of male connectivity, either, and the link between Holmes and Watson here is unquestionable. There are aspects of each character you know the other cannot abide, but that doesn’t keep them from having a solid affection that makes them care for one another. This version of Watson is looking to get out, and Holmes, for better or for worse, does all that he can to keep his companion running away with some woman.
Much of this is aided by the grand performances given by Downey, brilliant as the unbecoming Holmes, and Law, equally remarkable as the respectable counterpart. You could swear the two have worked together before. When the film begins, we are mid-hunt, nearing the end of some mystery that we are sure to never see. Nonetheless, from Ritchie’s grasp of the characters and the exceptional work done by the film’s two leads, our belief in the bond between Holmes and Watson is unwavering.
SHERLOCK HOLMES is an absolute blast, a film that succeeds in the mystery just as much as it does the adventure. When the film ends, and it isn’t much of a spoiler to reveal the case is solved and Holmes and Watson work out their differences, you can’t help but want more. The setup for a sequel, though probably not the smoothest element in the film’s plot structure, puts an apparent smile on my face. If a sequel to SHERLOCK HOLMES is half as much fun as SHERLOCK HOLMES, we are in for yet another wildly entertaining ride. In fact, if Ritchie, Downey, and Law are all able to keep the character and the stories as alive and delightful as this film, it could turn into a franchise that I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing afoot for a long time to come.