Blah, blah, blah something about the end of 2009. Sherlock Holmes!
“Guy Ritchie can fuck off and die in a fire for all I care. He couldn’t direct an orgy in a centre for recovering nymphomaniacs and will never, ever redeem himself in my eyes.”.That quotation is my convenient and sadly fictional, personal account of Mr. Ritchie’s body of work. Truth be told though, I probably would have said it at some point if it wasn’t for Sherlock Holmes – the least Ritchie-like film he’s done and probably the closest to redemption he will get in my book.
When crime-solving duo Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) get caught up in the case of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), things take a turn for the supernatural as Blackwood can apparently cheat death and seems to have otherworldly powers at his disposal. Things get more complicated when Holmes’ old flame Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is added to the mix. The plot itself is pretty good, with the main success of the film being the banter and general relationship between Holmes and Watson. Mark Strong was fine as the generic baddie Blackwood, McAdams was good, but underused as Irene and Eddie Marsan was great as Inspector Lestrade. This is a broad comic-book take on the Holmes stories and I think it works well. The stylised steampunk-esque (shut up, I know something isn’t steampunk if you set it “in olden times” and chuck a few cogs and gears on it) Victorian London setting also works fantastically well.
Jesus, look at Downey Jr. now. Thanks to Jon “Iron Man” Favreau for reminding us en masse how good he was and is capable of being. I loved his performance as Holmes for many different reasons. Downey Jr. seems to be playing him as a high functioning autistic- with few social skills and a brilliant eye for small details. If I remember my Conan Doyle (and I don’t remember much) Holmes was portrayed as very much this sort of character in his earlier adventures and it was refreshing to see the character go back to his literary roots. I thought the bare-knuckle boxing and Holmes’ approach to combat were both brilliantly done – although the slow-motion boxing screamed Snatch so loud I went temporarily deaf. There’s a fantastic scene where Watson’s fiancee Mary (Kelly Reilly) asks Holmes to deduce things about her. Holmes brilliantly dissects everything about her without any consideration for tact or feeling. He ends the scene eating alone with indignantly thrown wine dripping down the side of his face. I thought Jude Law’s Watson was a great foil to RDJ’s Holmes. The banter between the two is the film’s major strength and it’s always fun to watch them bicker.
My initial problem with the film was the fact that Ritchie directed it. The man is all style and no substance. He really thinks he’s being deep and poetic when he’s being dull and obvious. An example of this was the constant cutting to a raven whenever Blackwood was around. We see this fucking bird about 6 or 7 times. Jesus, we get it already! It kept reminding me of that running gag in The Simpsons when you always hear a crow cawing every time you see the nuclear power plant. However, in terms of tone, Ritchie and Holmes are a perfect match. The main problem I had with me ol’ geezer Guy was that everything was hyperedited and juvenile. However, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have that need to be taken seriously that has made most of the Ritchie back catalogue a masterclass in pretentiousness and unintentional camp. Some of the shots he chooses to use also baffle me. There’s that bit at the beginning of Snatch where the frame goes a full 360 degrees and looks like it was done on a PC from 1995. There’s one such shot in Holmes where a big Frenchie lad is running away from Holmes and Watson. The camera focuses on a “This Way Up” note on a box only to pull out and reveal that- ha! The camera and the box are upside down. It’s fine though and a very minor point.The same goes for the explosion (intentionally vague here to avoid spoilers) where everything ssssssllllllllloooooooooooowwwwwwwwssssssss down. It’s pretty but there’s no real sense of actual danger or “oomph”. I reckon Holmes would have been a much better film if Ritchie didn’t have the directorial reigns in his mouth, drooling over them like a concussed toddler. Having said that, maybe a more competent director would have had a less fun approach to it all.
Still, it’s clear that this film is intended to be the first in a franchise and there are some solid and fun foundations to build upon here, especially with the true to essence takes on Holmes and Watson. It’s a really entertaining watch and is definitely recommended viewing.Thank fuck the stupid and untrue line “Elementary, my dear Watson” didn’t appear.