Saturday, December 26, 2009
Review: Sherlock Holmes
Being unfamiliar with Conan Doyle's source material, you're going to have to take this review with a grain of salt, as I won't be making any surly anecdotes that people usually make with regards to literary adaptations. I am however, quite familiar with Guy Ritchie's work and feel comfortable addressing how this change of pace fits into his canon.
A Guy Ritchie film is synonymous with fantastically choreographed fight scenes, snappy dialogue, grimy scenery and a convoluted spiderweb of a story that may or may not find any acceptable resolution before the credits roll. This formula was utilized to great effect in Lock Stock and Snatch, but showed serious signs of wear in the mess that was Revolver, before recovering slightly with 2008's RocknRolla. Despite his success, one couldn't help but wonder why Ritchie didn't try his hand at another genre (I'm going to pretend that Swept Away doesn't exist). Maybe he insisted on doing all the screenwriting and heist movies were all that he could tease out of his brain. Maybe he didn't see any reason to mess with a winning (financially) formula. In any case, if more films like Sherlock Holmes are what we can expect from a post-Madonna Guy Ritchie, he should have ended things years ago.
In many ways, Sherlock Holmes is the perfect bridge for Guy Ritchie to attempt some semblance of mainstream success. The Holmes-Watson dynamic feels ripe for Ritchie-esque dialogue, and that's BEFORE you even realize that Holmes himself will be played by Robert Downey Jr and his straight man of a sidekick will be personified by Jude Law. Inspired casting to be sure. All other Guy Ritchie trademarks are here also, for better or worse. Grimy 19th century London streets, slo-mo shirtless fight scenes between Downey Jr and hulking behemoths, spiralling plotlines that come together a little too neatly in the end (more on that later).
As you've probably guessed, Robert Downey Jr is fantastic as Holmes, though he doesn't really bring a lot more to the table than he does as Tony Stark in Iron Man other than a British accent and tamer facial hair. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since much of is charm stems from cheeky quips and twitchy glances anyway (both of which are present here in spades). Additionally, Jude Law's Watson is a serviceable comic foil for Downey, at times in awe of his whirring scientific sleuthing and essentially babysitting him in others. He feels less like a sidekick and more of a friend, as well he should. Rachel McAdams plays Irene Adler, a con acquaintance/love interest of Holmes. She feels like an afterthought, and only serves too deepen the stale double/triple/quadruple-crossing story arc. On the bright side, she isn't completely helpless.
The central plot surrounds the evil, power-hungry Lord Blackwood who seemingly rises from the dead and terrorizes London, offering plenty of fight/chase/crime scenes in the process. The action scenes are quite effective here, especially when filtered through Holmes' scientific mind (you'll understand when you see the film). Also effective are the scenes that paint Holmes as a 19th century Robert Langdon, piecing together evidence with ease (to the delight of the bumbling Scotland Yard). Unfortunately, this detective work builds towards an obligatory "here-let-us-spell-everything-out-for-you-because-there-are-too-many-loose-ends" scene, that also feels like Robert Langdon (not a compliment). That's not to say it wasn't great fun, but I hope that they tell Ritchie to reign it in a little for the sequel (and there will certainly be a sequel). At least Sherlock Holmes is evidence that you can teach an old dog like Guy Ritchie new tricks, provided the new tricks are virtually identical to those he already has.