Monday, January 04, 2010

It's Quite Elementary Indeed, Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a film that I may need to see again, yet the more I think about it the less I want to. I actually felt myself nodding off during one of particular action sequences. The loudest point in the film no less. While I think the holiday leftovers may have played a role in this, I am fairly certain the overall lack of originality was the bigger culprit. As much as I wanted to like Sherlock Holmes, I cannot deny that I was surprisingly underwhelmed with Guy Ritchie's latest work.

Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved character, Sherlock Holmes, has seen many different incarnations so it was only a matter of time before a blockbuster version rolled around. In this latest pumped up version, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his trusty aide Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) foil the plans of a serial killer, Lord Blackwell (Mark Strong), before he can take the life of his latest victim. Lord Blackwell is sentenced to death but somehow rises from the grave three days after he is hanged. While many believe dark magic is responsible, Holmes tries to prove that there is a logical explanation for Blackwell's reappearance. Holmes must also confront his issues with Watson's pending marriage; and the re-emergence of the only woman to capture Sherlock's heart, the chronic deceiver Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams).

It took me a long time to pinpoint what irked me the most about this film. A line in which Holmes states "It's all about the small details" kept looping in my head repeatedly before I finally figured out the problem. By primarily focusing on the elaborate action sequences, Guy Ritchie actually makes Sherlock Holmes rather dumb. I am talking about both the movie and the man. The greatest asset Sherlock Homes has as a character is his mind. Like the films points out it is his ability to tell a lot from the tiniest of details that makes him so fascinating.

Once you place that key element of his character into the background, what do you really have left? A mindless action movie centred around a character known for his mind. We are forced to watch Holmes and Watson in a series of over-the-top action sequences that generate no real sense of thrill. At no point do we ever question if Holmes will make it out of a particular situation alive. This is most noticeable in the outlandish battle at the shipyard. The closest we get to real tension in the entire film is scene with the pigs and the electric saw, and even then we are only mildly concerned with Adler's life.

I am all for trying to make Sherlock Holmes more rugged but then at least provide him with a more challenging case to work with. At times the movie felt more like the next chapter in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code/Angels and Demons series. When Ritchie is not blowing stuff up, or staging slow-motion fights, we have to sit through a thin plot regarding the use of black magic. To top it all off, Guy Ritchie's version of Sherlock Holmes is an eccentric who needs work to keep himself sane. So when Holmes is actually collecting valuable information, such as licking a rock, Ritchie plays it off as just another one of Holmes' odd quirks. All these "quirks" are then overshadowed by the action moments, and serve no real purpose until "big reveal" during the last five minutes.

The one thing I will say in Guy Ritchie's favour is that he got the casting right. Robert Downey Jr. is the main reason to see this film. I loved his take on Holmes and he really carries the majority of the film on his back. Downey Jr. and Law have such great chemistry together that you could easily believe that Holmes and Watson have been in partnership for years. They react to things, both spoken and not, the same way an old married couple would. Guy Ritchie regular Mark Strong is adequate as Blackwood but the character is not a memorable villain at all. There is nothing really sinister or lasting about Blackwood, chances are good you will be more interested in a certain professor lurking in the shadows. Strong's abilities were better showcased in RocknRolla and Revolver. The weakest link is Rachel McAdams but this is more due to how her character is written rather than McAdams' performance. Irene Adler is supposed to be a cunning woman that can pickpocket Holmes' heart as fast as she can most men's wallets. Yet she spends most of the time as the woman in distress, and only occasionally as the swindler. There is no moment in the film where you truly get the sense that Adler and Holmes are madly in love but their lifestyles keep them apart. Frankly one can argue that Holmes had more romantic sparks with Watson in the movie than he does with Adler.

It is fairly evident that this film is setting the stage for a Sherlock Holmes sequel, which might actually work if they provide Holmes with a cunning villain and a great mystery. I just hope it is not another mindless romp for the greatest mind on Baker Street.

5 comments:

  1. Thank-you for mentioning the underuse of McAdams. I mean, her part in this movie made me pine for cameron Diaz in GANGS OF NEW YORK...and that's not a compliment!!!

    For me, Sherlock's intelligence was still in play...but saving every last discovery to the end felt a tad too...

    ...Scooby-Doo?

    Regardless, I dug it. I thought it was fun but flawed. If you're curious there neighbour, give my review a little look-see:

    http://mcneilmatinee.blogspot.com/2010/01/review-sherlock-holmes.html

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  2. @Hatter- Gangs of New York is a great comparison in regards to the female leads. Both actresses are grossly misused in their respected pictures. I also hear you on the Scooby-Doo style ending, I hope they work on fixing this in the sequel. I will give your full review a read later today.

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  3. Completely agree on Rachel McAdams being completely wasted. They couldn't give her at least ONE GOOD LINE? ONE LINE????? Is that too much to ask?

    My review if you are interested: http://www.anomalousmaterial.com/movies/2009/12/movie-review-sherlock-holmes-2009/

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  4. @Castor - Thank you for you comment. I will definitely give your review a read.

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  5. I have never had a lot of patience with the folks who complain that "that's not how it went in the book." Guess what? I found myself turning into that person while watching this movie.

    The filmmakers took everything that was good and right about Sherlock Holmes, brought it all together.....and threw it in the trash and made a big, dumb, loud action movie.

    Did I hate the movie? No, but I sure was disappointed by it. For a comparison watch the far superior BBC TV series Sherlock that came out the same year. It puts Holmes and Watson in modern times and it works quite well.

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