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Sherlock Holmes is a greatly entertaining reimagining of the classic detective character. The main reinvention of Holmes is in looking not at how he came to be such a brilliant investigator but what toll this would take on his personality, and the film does make some very good points in this regard. It feels like a much later Holmes, one whose adventuring and pithy disregard for establishment has grown into a tiresome rut and a snappish, surly demeanor. What we are left is a man who can predict the future, at least in the very short term, and for whom there few surprises or difficulties in life to stimulate him. And this attention to detail has become maddening even to Holmes himself, often times more of a personality disorder than a gift. As a result the Holmes of this film is petulant, churlish, arrogant and petty just as often as he is ingenious. He holds himself to a higher standard and expects to be rewarded for doing so by people who most likely cannot even fathom that to which he aspires.

After a fine establishing scene of just how Holmes and Watson work together to crack a case, we’re given a Holmes three months of boredom later, having scarcely left his rooms. Holmes’ tedium is on display in his quarters, his appearance and his manners. He seemingly busies himself by going slowly mental and driving away any and all acquaintances, as well as with a liberal intake of any substances that may cross his path. Most damning of all to him, Dr. Watson is moving out of the apartments they have shared to be married. Holmes is losing his only friend and confidant to the prospect of a family and he handles the pending situation quite poorly.

The film works largely because of the way that Robert Downey and particularly Jude Law carry the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Their work mirrors the characters they play, with Downey free to spin off into Holmes deep imagination and idiosyncrasies while Law keeps the film grounded in Watson’s reliability and solidness. The movie wastes little time on historical backgrounds of the men and needs not thanks to Law and Downey gelling perfectly in their roles with one another. They are figuratively brothers and have spent far too much time together to not bicker with one another. It is brotherly banter, though, right down to the smile Watson cannot suppress after the incident over a waistcoat. But they are also incapable of abandoning one another, no matter the danger or personal cost.

Guy Ritchie deserves praise as well for toning down a lot of his regular overkill in terms of violence and slickness for its own sake. There is some on display but rarely in a way that distracts from the film. He has managed to work both of these trademarks quite well into Holmes’ plan of attack, though. When he fights he knows five or six moves ahead of his opponent what he will do. Taking Holmes’ mental acuity and applying it chess-like to fighting prowess is a good plan for Ritchie to make a Sherlock Holmes movie while still making a Guy Ritchie movie. Addressing the infamous “Fight Club” scene made so much of in trailers, this scene ties back into my original statement about the character. Holmes enters this fight in what is clearly a deep depression and this only furthers the notion of his self destructive tendencies when his is unoccupied by something to challenge his intellect. It is a minor scene to the film but works in the context of establishing Holmes’ mental state in the early going. Once the mystery kicks into gear, violence still surrounds Holmes but never as egregiously as in that scene. He does deal with murderers after all, so a certain amount of violence should be expected to come with that territory. The action never overtakes the characterization, though, nor does it feel out of place in the scope of the plot.

The one place I felt the film failed was in Rachel McAdams’ casting as Holmes’ love interest/foil. She never projects the gravity necessary to be believable as his equal and their chemistry together is lacking, made even more apparent by how well he and Law establish themselves. And if Holmes fell in love with her some time ago as the movie seems to suggest, she must have been around nine years old to his 30. Frankly, her character feels tacked on to the film in all but one way, that being that she plays a major part in introducing an important character. I’ll spare you the spoiler. But really this is a minor quibble for a production of this size (or maybe Downey is just too good, as I had the same feeling about Gwyneth Paltrow’s excruciatingly dull Pepper Potts in Iron Man). Overall Holmes was a very good blockbuster action film which I believe does do the character justice. 4 stars

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One Comment

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