Sunday, January 10, 2010

Much more than elementary

When I was in high school, I went through a massive Sherlock Holmes craze. I read all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 56 short stories and 4 novels featuring the detective of 221B Baker Street, and since then I've always fancied myself the Sherlock Holmes expert (although with my spotty memory I really can't lay a firm claim to that). So when I saw the trailer for the new Sherlock Holmes movie directed by Guy Ritchie, I was totally psyched and couldn't wait to see it.

After watching said movie last night, I was reminded of everything I loved about the stories I read over a decade ago. Ritchie stays faithful to the spirit and soul of Sherlock, showing modern-day audiences how his brilliant mind-- as well as his vaunted ego-- works. Holmes (Robert Downey Jr., no shades of Tony Stark here) is portrayed as mentally sharp, emotionally unstable, and socially inept, as hinted at in Doyle's Sherlock Holmes canon, but he
is transformed from the traditional image of scholarly London gentleman into a street-smart, bad-ass brawler. Ritchie also does a fantastic job of highlighting the now not unfamiliar "bromance" dynamic between Holmes and his trusty sidekick Dr. John Watson (Jude Law, suddenly hot again). The chemistry between Downey and Law is capital, and more than anything keeps the movie fun and light-hearted. But the overall feel of the movie is unmistakably, purely Ritchie: the gritty cinematography, the dark art direction, the smashing (pun intended) action sequences, the fast-talking "street" characters, the sardonic humor. Reminiscent of Ritchie's previous films though not as hard-hitting, as a result Sherlock Holmes is an edgy, engaging crowd-pleaser (if the loud guffaws from the boors seated behind us in the theater were any indication).

While I thought RDJ did a bang-up job of playing SH, accent and all, I couldn't shrug off the nagging thought that it's an American dude playing an iconic English figure. But though the casting of RDJ didn't sit well with me, his acting prowess was faultless. Another thought that kept running through my head was, Jude Law's BACK. Sometimes when an actor's personal exploits blemish their reputation, the public tends to forget about his talent.
Sherlock Holmes reminded me why I used to crush on Jude Law, and with both this project and the upcoming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, I daresay his career's right back on track.
His Watson was the perfect straight man to RDJ's rough-around-the-edges Holmes, and the good doctor came off as sympathetic, charming and funny. I found myself missing him whenever he wasn't onscreen. As for the lovely Rachel McAdams, whom I adore, I actually thought she was ill-suited to play the cunning Irene Adler, Holmes' adversary/love interest. I'd always pictured Adler as a more mature woman, sultry rather than flirty, sexy rather than cute. Someone along the lines of Catherine Zeta-Jones or Jennifer Connelly would have been a better fit. No similar complaints about Mark Strong, who is fast becoming a reliable supporting actor to fill in the shoes of the menacing villain. His Lord Blackwood was equal parts intimidating and intelligent, smooth and sinister.

One last observation, on the plot: I wasn't expecting the "practical magic" element (Lord Blackwood is convicted of murdering 5 women in his practice of the Dark Arts), and coincidentally I had just been discussing Susanna Clarke's book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell with someone the day before I watched Sherlock Holmes. I wondered if the screenwriters had been inspired by Clarke's premise, or if they had based it on historical research. In any case, the black magic theme matched the macabre mood that I've always associated with Doyle's stories (The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles gave me serious heebie-jeebies).

In summation, the Sherlock Holmes buff in me was pleased by this latest incarnation and adaptation, and it bodes well for 2010 that I kicked off this year's film-viewing and -reviewing with a well-made, well-received movie. Bloody good show, chaps.


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