Sunday, January 10, 2010

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

Despite the hoopla surrounding the release of Avatar, when I finally had the opportunity to see a movie in the theater, I really wanted to see Sherlock Holmes; and having now seen it, I'm pretty sure I made the right choice. I'm not sure what drew me to this film. I'm not a follower of the Holmes canon and I don't think I've read anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in over 20 years (that's a painful sentence to write) and most reviews I've read regarding this movie say that it isn't a faithful adaptation anyway. What this film is, is a buddy-film featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law; and that, frankly, was enough for me. Set in late 1800's London, Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" is gorgeously atmospheric in a calculatingly washed-out fashion. Holmes, as played by Robert Downey Jr., is the kind of genius that spends his time in the darkness of his wildly chaotic apartment when he is not working on a case. Killing time by devising dangerous experiments, Holmes doesn't venture out unless prompted by Dr. Watson (Jude Law) who is as much mother hen as best friend. In addition to being famously observant, Holmes is also an avid boxer and those skills are put to immediate use as the movie opens with Holmes and Watson closing in on Lord Blackwood, a deranged noble who believes in the occult and has been committing human sacrifices. Once caught, Lord Blackwood is quickly sentenced to death. But not long after he is hanged his tomb appears to be blown open from the inside and Holmes and Watson quickly discover the body in the coffin isn't Blackwood's and rumors of the man's resurrection quickly spread throughout the city. The plot gets ever more convoluted and it's clear that the story is intended to demonstrate Holmes' clear-eyed attention to detail and cool reasoning abilities in the face of evidence of supernatural activities. Vague plot elements are rapidly introduced, including a former flame of Holmes played by Rachel McAdams, and the audience has no choice but to watch the film skip along knowing that everything will be answered in the film's denouement; and we're not disappointed. Confusing plot aside, "Sherlock Holmes" is still a movie you can sink your teeth into. The action sequences are fabulous. Often gaining momentum and then slowing into a slow-motion display, they're just captivating to watch. While some critics like to compare Holmes' fight scenes to something out of "Fight Club," I thought they were cleverly done and nothing like the messy, brutal scenes of the Brad Pitt film and were an effective demonstration of the more practical uses of Holmes' peculiar wit. The score of the movie caught my attention more than once as well. Holmes' character often plays his violin during his experiments or to simply help him think, and the use of the violin as part of the background music added so much to the atmosphere of the movie and cemented the sense of being in a certain era. I loved it. But the real strength of the film is the casting of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson. Downey is one of those actors who is reliably terrific in everything he does and he doesn't disappoint here. Though his last high profile character, Tony Stark from "Iron Man," is also something of a mad genius, I didn't feel like I was watching a period piece featuring that character. Director Guy Ritchie had stated that he originally had intended to cast a younger actor in the role of Holmes in hopes of doing a foundation film in the mold of "Batman Begins," but I'm glad he went with the casting he did. Holmes and Watson leap onto the screen as fully fleshed-out characters with a well established partnership. Jude Law is very, very good as the quietly steady Dr. Watson. I don't know if Watson had originally been written as the man of action Law so ably plays, but he's convincing in his portrayal of a former soldier. In fact, I really find myself torn as to who I liked better, Law or Downey. But it should also be noted that the chemistry between the two makes the film and I doubt it would be nearly as good without either one. Overall, "Sherlock Holmes" is a solid piece of film making. The movie could have been trimmed a bit and perhaps the occult storyline was unnecessary, but it is an awful lot of fun. The story ended with the intention of a sequel and I certainly hope we get one.

11 comments:

Fab said...

I'm going to see it with my colleagues next Thursday. I had some reservations when they proposed it (though an avid Downey Jr. fan), cause Holmes doesn't say much to me. But this post has made me curious.

Jamie Gibbs said...

I've not been a follower of any Sherlock Holmes before watching this, and although Ritchie's previous films have been fun I did have an air of trepidation about me when I went to see this. However, I was not disappointed.

I loved the twists and turns of the plot and all the little things that made the connections into the bigger picture. I also loved the small details that you don't realise until they're explained later and you think "Damn, really? I need to see that bit again!" (I make particular note of the scene with the carriage and the gun). I loved Holmes' analysis of a fight before he actually commited himself to it, and the casting of Downey Jr. as the lead was a superb bit of casting.

I really liked the occult angle, it made you question the reality of what was going on throughout, despite Holmes' rational mind and scepticism there were still lingering thoughts in the back of my mind that were expecting something altogether supernatural.

I hope that there is a sequel, the adventures of Holmes and Watson aren't over yet!

furiousBall said...

i'll probably wait for this on DVD, looks decent, but not $10 decent

SQT said...

Fab-- I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Jamie-- I really liked the fight scenes too. That one in the ring was a thing of beauty. I didn't mind the occult angle, I just wasn't sure it was done as effectively as I could have been. The explanation when Holmes recreated Blackwood's ritual felt a little rushed to me.

Furiousball-- it really depends on your taste. I think I got more out of this than I would have from "Avatar," so it was money well spent from my perspective.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm glad to hear good stuff about it. I'll be renting it when it comes on PPV for sure.

T.D. Newton said...

I agree, a good film. For me, it was forth the theater ticket, but for others it might not be. It's great to see RDjr doing well, and I can't wait for Iron2Man.

Sullivan McPig said...

I was already planning to go see this movie, your review makes me believe that is the right decision indeed.

JG said...

Agreed, this was by far the best holiday-timed film that came out. Downey and Law are the biggest strengths. I was a tad disappointed in Rachel McAdams. Normally, I love her, but she just felt...out of place...like you could tell she was a 21st-century actress playing dress-up. I didn't get that from the men, or even from the woman who plays Mary, whose name I can't remember.

It also had a familiar feel to me, like that of Batman Begins; a good film meant to establish a REALLY good film series. Hard to be more specific without being spoilerish, but I think you know what I mean.

SQT said...

JG- I had the same feeling about McAdams and I couldn't decide if it was just me. I did like Mary too (I'd have to look up the name of the actress). I do know she was in "Pride & Prejudice" as Lucy Bingley, so she's done period acting before. I wouldn't be surprised if McAdams has not.

micro sd said...

Sherlock Holmes for the ADD generation, jerking and twitching like a crank freak itching for his next sniff.

SQT said...

Micro-- You have a point. Isn't that Richie's normal style? I'm probably overly enamored of Downey and Law, but it worked for me.