Guy Ritche brings forth the world's greatest detective (and sidekick) for a new generation in a stylish, frisky film that sets up the
Elementary, My Dear Movie Audience:
12-23-09 "Knight Thoughts" web exclusive
By Richard Knight, Jr.
Director Guy Ritchie hasn’t made a lot of movies since his breakthrough picture, 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and with
the exception of the campy misfire Swept Away for then wife Madonna, they’ve pretty much been variations on a theme – petty and
usually eccentric criminals involved in an assortment of violent activities tarted up with Ritchie’s signature camera flourishes (every
action set piece features the same speeded up/slo mo camera effect). You know what you’re going to get with Ritchie and you
either glom onto his in your face approach or you check out. I happened to like very much his last film RocknRolla which seemed the
culmination of Ritchie’s directorial tics and featured a raft of clever actors and I happen to like his adaptation of Sherlock Holmes
in part because it’s also exactly what I expected. With Ritchie, familiarity has not bred contempt.
Though the movie doesn’t stretch Ritchie’s talents one iota, the Victorian time period of the material (and the big budget to recreate
it), the constant banter between stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and sidekick Watson, and the familiar by the
numbers plot of nefarious doings offers him a sturdy template to apply his usual battery of camera tricks to. The result, a mixture
of chop socky, lavish period detail, some high flying theatrics on the part of Downey (who seems to speak with rocks in his mouth)
and Mark Strong as yet another baddie, set to Hans Zimmer’s witty, non-stop score is an immensely likeable movie – a sort of grown
up version of Barry Levinson's Young Sherlock Holmes.
As in that sadly overlooked effort (it should have been the first of many installments), the plot involves one of those secret societies
headed by a stylish madman who wants to take over first London and then the world. Downey begins the film in a funk – his Holmes
is so brilliant that it takes a lot to get his attention (“There’s nothing out there on earth that interests me” he says with melancholy)
– and to add to his misery, Watson, his roommate is moving out to marry his intended. But soon the game’s afoot and with Watson
in tow the duo are racing about the cloudy London streets (the skies are so inky and ominous that one expects Sweeney Todd and
Mrs. Lovett to make an appearance).
Downey and Law spar a bit ala Redford and Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and other buddy action blockbusters but
with these two there’s more than a hint of a homoerotic undertow – certainly on Holmes’ part whose peevishness over Watson’s
impending engagement which is responsible for breaking up the duo’s happy home is a subplot of the film. Not even the arrival of
Holmes’ ex-lover Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), a former criminal nemesis seems to distract much from Holmes’ attraction to Law
(and, um, can you blame him?).
The script which has five credited writers (imagine how many more tinkered away at it), as mentioned, revolves around Holmes trying
to unearth a secret society and track Strong as the baddie who was supposedly convicted and hung but now terrorizes London after
being resurrected from the dead. Fans of the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Watson classic series and other film/TV editions of the beloved
detective will breathe a sigh of relief at the familiar plot and the inclusion of many of the detective’s quirky characteristics – yes,
there’s even that horn shaped pipe.
But though this is standard issue stuff its very familiarity, jazzed up with Ritchie’s sweeping camera, it keeps one happily involved
and the script has the good sense to offer Holmes the repeated opportunity to show off his masterful powers of logic – a parlor trick
that never fails to entertain (something else diehards will nod in approval at though there’s much here they won’t like).
Stylish and fun, running on Ritchie’s brand of kinetic energy, the director has wrought a Sherlock Holmes hybrid that’s sure to
entertain movie audiences for years to come. I look forward to at least 20 more adventures – and the film in which Holmes finally
reveals the nature of his true feelings for Watson and comes out. The game will certainly be afoot at that point!
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