Sunday, December 27, 2009

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes ***
Directed By:
Guy Ritchie.
Written By: Michael Robert Johnson & Anthony Peckham & Simon Kinberg based on the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes), Jude Law (Dr. John Watson), Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler), Mark Strong (Lord Blackwood), Eddie Marsan (Inspector Lestrade), Robert Maillet (Dredger), Geraldine James (Mrs. Hudson), Kelly Reilly (Mary Morstan), William Houston (Constable Clark), Hans Matheson (Lord Coward), James Fox (Sir Thomas).

I’ve known for a while now that the TV show House was inspired greatly by Sherlock Holmes. I bring this up because watching Guy Ritchie’s version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective, the interaction between Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) reminded me more than anything of the interaction between House and Wilson on that TV show. It has been a while since I read any of Doyle’s books (I read almost all of them as a child) I cannot tell if House just does a great job of adapting Doyle’s books, or if this version of Sherlock Holmes does an excellent job of adapting House for the big screen, or neither.

The interaction between Holmes and Watson is the heart of the movie, and the reason to see it. Downey has made a career of late playing egomaniacal assholes who are geniuses, but rub everyone around him the wrong way. Holmes is another of those characters, the biggest difference this time being that he has a British accent as he acts like an asshole. But Downey plays these roles better than anyone. And, as always, in Sherlock Holmes, he is great. Jude Law is excellent as Watson. He loves Holmes in his own way, but is tired of being at his beck and call at all hours. He is moving out of their shared flat, and moving his office away from Holmes, He wants to get engaged, and move on with his life. But Holmes has a hold on him, and won’t let go. Much like House and Wilson, Holmes cannot let Watson go, because if he does his one connection with humanity will be gone, and Holmes may not be able to find his way back.

The case at the center of the movie didn’t really interest me very much. The thing I always liked about the Holmes stories was how there was a central mystery, and we were never sure until the final scenes who was behind all the wickedness in the story. In the movie, we know from the first scene that the bad guy is Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), even though he is supposedly hung early in the story. We also know that Holmes’ former love Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is not completely on the up and up. All of Holmes deductive powers are not really used in the movie, unless its to figure out how best to beat someone up.

That’s right, there’s a lot of action in this movie. Lots of chase sequences and fights between Holmes and various bad guys. Yes, director Guy Ritchie will tell you that in the books Holmes liked to box and he studied martial arts. All this is true, but it was never really as much of a part of the story as it is here. But, what did you expect really? Times have changed, and films need non stop action these days to draw in and audience, and has Guy Ritchie has proven in the past, that if a movie doesn’t contain action, then he doesn’t know how to direct it. And Ritchie does a fine job with the direction in the film (even if he is overly fond of slow motion), but it is easily Ritchie’s best film since Snatch almost a decade ago. Perhaps Ritchie is finally back making the type of movies he should be making.
Sherlock Holmes plays like the first movie in a series. In it, the filmmakers seem more interesting in setting up the characters than telling a real story. True, they jam one in, and because Mark Strong is such a strong actor, he turns the obvious storyline into something more intense with his villainous turn. But I am looking forward to seeing what comes next. By the end of this film, they have introduced at least the idea of Holmes arch nemesis Professor Moriaty. Now that’s the Sherlock Holmes movie I want to see.

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