Robert Downey Jr
TRAILER: Sherlock Homes
After the reasonably good Guy Ritchie comeback film RocknRolla went some way to fixing the bad reputation he had garnered with films like Swept Away, the filmmaker, sans Madonna, has continued to attempt redemption and career revival by helming the latest film adaptation of one of literature’s most beloved heroes, Sherlock Holmes.
In danger of becoming repetitive in the story department, Ritchie wisely hands screenplay duties to Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg, leaving him free to dedicate his time to what he does best, namely creating a stylistically impressive world with inventive camera techniques and fast-paced action. The story, while not an original Arthur Conan Doyle, is very Holmesian in its scope, subject matter and telling. Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and his long time partner in (solving) crime, Dr Watson (Jude Law) are dealing with the case of Lord Blackwood (the suitably evil Mark Strong), an apparently supernaturally gifted villain with views on world domination and mass murder and a rather annoying habit of cheating death. The game is afoot!
With no deerstalker, magnifying glass, or catch phrases, the rebooted Shelock Holmes is less a polished toff than a scruffy bohemian given to bouts of crippling depression and often to brawling in underground, bare-knuckle fights. Law’s Watson has also been brought up to date. He is not the bumbling sidekick or passive chronicler, but a hardemed war veteran and more than capable of taking care of himself in a fight. A more action-packed adventure than any adaptation before it, the film is well paced and strikes a good balance between the required detective story exposition and epic action set pieces that take place in, under, and over a beautifully rendered Victorian London.
Ritchie’s technical skill as a filmmaker is on full display with his use of the specially designed Phantom camera, a super slow motion rig that is used to good, if gimmicky, effect during flashy sequences illustrating the speed and accuracy with which Holmes mind works in combat situations. Ritchie has used similar techniques before in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and there’s not a lot of substance involved but they are a lot of fun to watch, like the film itself.
The weak link in the film is the use of the female characters. The only women of note in the film fall far too easily into clichd stereotypes. Both of the characters have appeared in the Holmes canon, but they are weakly drawn here. Rachel McAdams plays Holmes suggested love interest, Irene Adler, who is also known as the only woman to have bested him… twice. Only very briefly however, soon after her introduction, does Irene Adler show any flair for the level of criminal pedigree or deceit that would be required to outwit Holmes. Her character is then very quickly pulled back in to submission by a mysterious villain and turned in to a damsel in distress for pretty much the remainder of the film.
Both Arthur Conan Doyle and Guy Ritchie have made careers on the type of plot twists and surprises that lurk down every dark alley in the film and though perhaps a little shallow, they are well crafted and entertaining. Despite its shortcomings, Sherlock Holmes is a solid return to form for Ritchie and it looks to be the start of a fun new franchise.