Via my forced high school readings of a novel or two and landing on a movie during a bored late night channel surf, I’m not surprised I remember very little of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes. Literally, the only things that come to mind are: He was a condescending bastard who smoked a pipe and wore a silly plaid hat with a matching half cape thingy. I suppose that was a long-winded way of saying I wasn’t overly impressed with the famed detective and not so much in interested in his re-imaging in Sherlock Holmes. Of course with Guy Ritchie involved with the project, this wasn’t going to be anything your grandmother would recognize or approve of (that’s a good thing by the way).
How right that preceding statement is. Sherlock Holmes is an unexpectedly fun action flick that showcases another side of the stodgy private eye altogether.
For starters, Mr. Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is fond of his mind altering drugs. I suppose that living with his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) affords him the luxury of high-class experimentation. Like Einstein, it is probably at the root of his genius. Holmes is also a tough son of a bitch. The man, it turns out, likes to put a beating on a foe, be it for fun or survival. Ritchie and screenwriters Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg also keep his pompous attitude intact (although that may just be a British thing).
Setting aside his character “flaws” there is a mystery afoot. A Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), while dabbling in the occult, has sacrificed a few women for the cause. For his crimes, he’s hanged and declared dead. But is he? Seems, his beliefs in the dark arts has given him the honor of life after death. Scotland Yard, led by Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) is befuddled, and as expected, they call upon the prowess of Holmes and Watson to provide the solution.
I won’t give the twists and turns of Sherlock Holmes away; what I will say is the film just expects you to believe that all the dots connect — you’ll miss all the clues as they’re happened upon. But the fun of the movie isn’t about trying to solve the case yourself, Ritchie wants to the viewer to get swallowed up in the chase. From backroom fight clubs to a ship building dock to a partially completed Tower Bridge, the action is light-hearted and quick. The effects leave a bit to be desired but the overall dirty feel of 1891 London is spot on.
Helping us to ignore some of the holes in the mystery is the impressive work of Downey Jr. as the super sleuth. At first glance I thought he was a casting mistake but after further analysis he and Holmes have quite a lot in common. Jude Law, too, brings an interesting take to Dr. Watson, whom I recall was generally characterized as a buffoon in prior movies. A fair amount of time is used developing the friendship between the two and it really pays off.
Aside from the typical potholes a crime mystery stumbles through when trying to come together, the only other questionable piece of the puzzle is the role and casting of Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, Holmes’ love interest. McAdams herself just looks and acts like a fish out of water and her role doesn’t have much meat or add any purpose to the film — hell, she actually detracts from it when she is in it. If anything, I get the feeling she was tacked on late in the project solely for her “girl next door” good looks. Thankfully, her screen time is minor so Sherlock Holmes doesn’t suffer long term.
Speaking of long term, this revisionism of Holmes has a clear path to becoming a continuing box office success. And if most of the players return for a sequel (I can’t imagine they wouldn’t), I’ll be back to watch the next mystery unfold with them.