Friday, March 11, 2011

Sherlock Holmes

How much you like this movie seems to depend largely on how much you care about maintaining the integrity and tone of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. I mostly don't care as long as they get the essentials right, and since seeing the core idea (an eccentric, detail-obsessed detective and his doctor chum solving elaborate mysteries) translate so well to the modern world in last year's British TV adaptation, I was totally ready for the thought of it also making the transition to big budget, special effect-heavy action movie directed by Guy Ritchie. He's one of the first directors I noticed to have a distinct and interesting style when I was still figuring out how different and interesting movies can really be when I was a young teenager, and I think Sherlock Holmes is his best movie since Snatch. Obviously most people would say that's not saying very much, but I liked the movie and its prospects as a series a lot.

It definitely starts with Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as Holmes. Originally Ritchie wanted to use someone younger, and have the movie act as sort of a Holmes origin story I guess, which sounds like a terrible idea, but the casting of Downey allowed them to get rid of that concept. Instead we just jump right in with Holmes and Watson, who have been working together for years. The action movie thing might not have worked at all without the right actor, but Downey is pretty much always the right actor when it comes to intelligent yet intimidating protagonists, and the whole thing just ends up succeeding. The way they integrate Holmes' incredible attention to minor details into his fisticuffs (which are an actual element of the original stories by the way, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia) makes the fight scenes more interesting than they might have been otherwise, and just every bit of the performance is a joy to watch. Jude Law makes a worthy companion as Watson, and Mark Strong is a pretty good villain as Blackwood. I didn't like Rachel McAdams much as Irene Adler, though she didn't kill the movie for me either.

So while Downey does a lot to make the movie fun and enjoyable, it probably would have been at least decent without him anyway. Of course some elements of the script wouldn't have been there without him, but the final work itself is pretty good, mashing together a pretty interesting pseudo-supernatural plot with some unique and entertaining action sequences. There are moments for many of Holmes' little tricks like his penchant for disguise, and while some of the deductions were disappointingly simple after a lot of the genius stuff in the British TV show (things like identifying family members merely by them having the same rare eye color feel like easy shortcuts), I think the combination of influences worked a lot better than you might expect. Ritchie's direction does a lot to further separate the movie from regular blockbuster fare, spicing up some scenes that would otherwise have been obvious with unique and unexpected choices. Some bits are a bit too familiar, and help prevent the movie from being a real genre classic, but it's about as good as you can reasonably expect something with its box office expectations to be. And while I don't think the intention was to actually imply that Holmes and Watson were ever lovers, the way some of their interactions were played in that light was generally humorous without going overboard. Definitely a movie that benefited from the talent working on it, and it's good to see they're coming back for the sequel. Also, apparently Stephen Fry will play Mycroft, which is just fantastic.

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