Sunday, January 10, 2010
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.