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Monday, December 12, 2011

The First 'Sherlock' Sets A Stylish Stage

Sherlock Holmes:  4 out of 5

[Note: Obviously the sequel is coming out, so I'm revisiting my original Sherlock Holmes reviews.]

Sherlock Holmes: Now that you are both seated comfortably, I shall begin...

A lot of fun to be had here in an update of author Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective series. A finely made adventure story, with Robert Downey Jr. making for a great Sherlock Holmes, add to that wonderful chemistry between him and Jude Law as Watson, as well as stylish direction by Guy Ritchie. And as much as I enjoyed these elements of the film, Hans Zimmer's score was certainly the best part for me.

Now to start off, before outlining the plot, I have to make notice of how much I love that Warner Bros lets the filmmakers mess around with their opening logos. This time it actually even factors into the movie as it begins. So, set in Victorian Era London, the film begins with Detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner/doctor/comic foil Watson on their supposed last case together, as they capture Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong. It's their last case, because Watson plans to marry and move out, leaving Holmes to himself.

Dr. John Watson: [to Holmes as he guzzles a liquid] You do know what your are drinking is meant for eye surgery?
Three months later, as Blackwood is to be executed for his crimes, we find Holmes being his reclusive self, smoking his opium, doing some part time boxing, and experimenting alone in his room. Things become more complicated as an old flame/con artist, Irene Adler played by Rachel McAdams, steps back into his life with a job. This job only leads to more trouble, as the presumed dead from hanging Blackwood is found to have risen from the grave. Now, with the stalwart Watson reluctantly at Holmes' side, the two continue their work together to hopefully stop Blackwood from whatever nefarious plans he may have.
Sherlock Holmes: Watson...what have you done?

One of the best aspects of this film is how closely Robert Downey Jr. resembles the way in which the Holmes character was written by Doyle. Getting away from the more classical version portrayed by older incarnations such as Basil Rathbone, this Holmes is very much the reclusive, neurotic, loner who's genius level of detection mixed with his drug use as well as physical ability all play their parts to make him this era's Batman (yes, I brought it back to Batman, but that will play a part later in this review). Adding to this new film version of Holmes is Jude Law as Watson, again not the classical bumbling Watson, but an experienced field surgeon, who has seen his share of battles. The two characters are well represented, and the chemistry between them is truly the heart of this film. Their banter is a great joy to see, showing the true bromance that is present within the dynamic of this relationship.
Sherlock Holmes: You've never complained about my methods before.
Dr. John Watson: I've never complained! When have I ever complained about you practicing the violin at three in the morning, or your mess? Your general lack of hygiene or the fact that you steal my clothes?
Sherlock Holmes: We have a barter system.
Adding to the work of these performers is the direction by Guy Ritchie. Finally, Ritchie is given the right sandbox to play in. After directing 'Lock, Stock' and 'Snatch', only to marry Madonna and make two disastrous films, producer Joel Silver found him and gave him a shot, resulting in his low key comeback that was RocknRolla. Now, finally realizing how great of a visual director he can be, someone gave him the chance to not write another gangster comedy, but instead direct a genre film of sorts. Rightfully, all has worked out, as the film is set in Victorian times, but has an updated feel to it all. Ritchie brings in his use of rapid fire editing and constantly fun use of slo mo to the proceedings. as well as some standout ideas for key sequences, that certainly lend itself to a watchable good time. The whole tone of the film has the same sort of fun feel that films like 'The Mask of Zorro' and 'Casino Royal' had. 


Bringing it back to Batman (I said it'd come up again) a lot of the plotting seems to resemble 'Batman Begins' in a way. While certainly not an origin story (and not nearly as serious) the multiple characters, plot strands, story devices, all while maintaining focus on one main character in a rebooted version certainly made me consider the similarities. That being said, both in 'Begins' and here do the female characters not add a whole lot. Not to say McAdams isn't all kinds of sexy/cute as well as effective as an actress, its just to say that the Holmes/Watson dynamic is much more entertaining, as is Wayne/Alfred. While on the subject of supporting cast, Mark Strong doesn't get a whole lot to work with as Blackwood, but since I dig Strong in just about anything he's in, I was just happy to see him here (as well as a name on the poster to help sell the film).

Other minor quibbles I have fall to the length of the film, which is a bit too long, at a little over two hours. Ritchie's strengths visually certainly don't help when connecting sequences don't have the same pull. That being said, despite the marketing showing off how big and flashy this new version of a Sherlock Holmes film is, there isn't much 'action.' There are some main set pieces for sure, but this blockbuster studio film, as I have mentioned, does do justice to the Doyle stories, striking a fine balance between its comedy/adventure and its character story/detective aspects.


Saving the best for last, I was truly impressed with Hans Zimmer's score on this film. Zimmer, who also did fine work on 'Begins' and 'The Dark Knight' (See, I can keep bringing it back to Batman!), is certainly not slumming it here, creating a wonderful new theme for a character that I certainly want to see follow up films for (and with setups for Holmes' nemesis Prof. Moriarty in place, I'm all set for it).

A lot of fun to be had here.
Dr. John Watson: Holmes, does your depravity know no bounds?
Sherlock Holmes: No.


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