Mark Reviews Movies

SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009)

3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Robert Maillet, Kelly Reilly, Geraldine James

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material)

Running Time: 2:08

Release Date: 12/25/09


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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 25, 2009

After so many incarnations, in so many media, and with such scrutiny from aficionados, it's hard to keep track of Sherlock Holmes. So much is briefly mentioned or hinted at in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels and stories about the iconic detective, that it seems no one really has a clear view on the character.

Just look up any resource available online about mentions of drug use within the Holmes canon, and you will see passionate arguments whether or not he was an addict. If in the affirmative, then you will see further debates about how important that element is to him as a character, and if in the negative, you will see counterarguments about how this rumor came to pass and what people should really be looking at with the character.

The point being, it is almost impossible to please everyone with an interpretation of the world's greatest detective, because we all have our preconceived notions of what's important to Holmes and how that should be portrayed. He is simply too great and enigmatic a character to fit into a nicely wrapped package.

Some, then, will fury over how director Guy Ritchie handles the Holmes legend in Sherlock Holmes, finding inconsistency with what Doyle has given us or condemning how the narrative compares to his stories or how it hardly measures up to other famous cinematic portrayals, and that's fine. From where I stand, though, I enjoyed the hell out of Sherlock Holmes.

Screenwriters Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg whittle the Holmes character down to the basics, reasonably expand him using some of Doyle's background information to give him a slight action hero edge, develop a pretty crackerjack story involving the occult and a plan to recreate the Gunpowder Plot using a Victorian-style chemical weapon, and read between the lines of the Holmes/Watson dynamic enough to make us read further between the lines.

The story starts with Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) solving a string of murders linked to the mystic Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Before he is hung for his crimes, Blackwood promises Holmes that he will return, murder some more people, and create a mystery that even Holmes will have difficulty cracking.

Sure enough, Blackwood's grave turns up broken from the inside, and the incompetent Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) from Scotland Yard needs Holmes' help to figure out how a dead man exited his tomb and has begun to kill again.

By the time all is settled, Holmes will encounter the Temple of the Four Orders, a shady group focused on magic whose leader doesn't understand that blindfolding Holmes will not stop him from working out where their secret headquarters is located, uncover a far-reaching plan to regain control of Britain's dominion over the world, and give chase and duke it out atop the under-construction Tower Bridge. None of this, though, deters from the fundamentals of Holmes.

The Holmes character is still a master of deduction and a toying showman about it, sure to only give Watson and the audience as much information as they need to continue the plot while keeping enough to himself to surprise us later (In typical Holmes narrative fashion, the solution to a mandatory riddle is held until the final scene). He is an introvert, only comfortable while on a case, otherwise staying secluded to his study. In his downtime, he makes cases for himself, whether it's analyzing Watson's soon-to-be fiancée (Kelly Reilly)—and ending up with a face full of wine—or taking medicine meant for surgery and discovering what effect his violin playing has on flies in a jar. While awaiting Watson to arrive to dinner, he cannot help himself from observing every detail around him, and it becomes so overwhelming an experience that he must close his eyes in an attempt to shut off his brain.

He's also a skillful bare-knuckle boxer, planning out his attack in slow motion in his mind before acting, and that talent comes in handy with Blackwood's cronies trying to stop Holmes at every turn. This includes wandering into an encounter with a giant of a man, who stands multiple shocks from a late-19th-century Taser before engaging in a kinetic fight with Holmes amidst the crumbling scaffolding surrounding a ship in dry dock.

Making matters more complicated for our hero is the reappearance of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, weak considering the character), the only person to ever get the best of Holmes, who is working for a mysterious man whose face is always in shadow (one guess whom that might be), while Watson is preparing to pack his things from 221B Baker Street. Holmes and Watson bicker like an old married couple in between the investigating and brawling, which lends a refreshing air to the dynamic.

Ritchie and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot create a grimy, damp Victorian London with the help of some very effective visual effects. The grim view accentuates the macabre story, and while Ritchie cannot help from giving into the intermittent stylistic flashes, they work and are occasionally exhilarating, like a slow-motion run through a series of explosions that leaves a main character's outcome in question, if only briefly.

Ritchie's overall imagining of Holmes fiction may be too pulpy for some fans' tastes, but in bringing the detective back, Sherlock Holmes finds just the right balance between staying true to its origins and fitting a semi-modern interpretation into the mix. It is, like a good work of pulpy detective fiction, a load of fun.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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