Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Sherlock Holmes" (2009)

"Sherlock Holmes" (2009)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams
Written by Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham
Directed by Guy Ritchie

I'll have to admit, I'm not much of a fan of Guy Ritchie.  I enjoyed "Snatch" for its sense of fun and flashy style, less so "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and that island movie he made with his wife Madonna was just terrible.  So I was worried when everything about "Sherlock Holmes" sounded awesome except for the fact that it was to be directed by Guy Ritchie.

My fears did not come to pass.  "Sherlock Holmes" is a fun reinvention of a classic character, one that recasts the general conception of Holmes as a younger action hero.  His keen intellect is still very much apparent, however - Holmes has not been dumbed down at all, and in fact, the visual cues of his thinking process are some of the more fun and inventive parts of the movie. 

As the film opens, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and Watson (Jude Law) are on the case to solve ritualistic murders of young women they discover is the work of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong).  They catch him before he's able to complete his next murder, and Blackwood is sentenced to death by hanging.  Three months later, it appears that Blackwood has risen from the grave, and is killing again.  As Holmes investigates a plot that seems to be more and more supernatural (a belief Holmes doesn't subscribe to), he will have to use every bit of his intellect to stop a plot that could ultimately change the world as we know it.

Robert Downey Jr is on a roll.  After cleaning himself up and making some really excellent project choices in the last few years, he's become a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.  Though a highly recognizable, A-list star, he has an uncanny ability to transform himself into a role, whether it's alcoholic billionaire superhero Tony Stark in "Iron Man" or extreme method actor Kirk Lazarus in "Tropic Thunder."  Here, his Sherlock Holmes is a very flawed genius.  While his social skills are eccentric at best, his martial arts skills match his intellect.  He is able to deliver a quick quip or a stunning analysis with equal energy and fervor.  And yet, there's a vulnerability to him, especially whenever old flame Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) shows up.

Jude Law performs nearly as well as Dr. Watson, Holmes' partner.  We're told that Watson will soon be leaving Holmes to form his own practice and marry his fiancee, but the situations continue to require Watson to take Holmes' back as the case becomes more and more dangerous.  Law and Downey have excellent chemistry together, and they really do bring a brotherly bond to the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  In fact, this relationship is easily the high point of the movie; the dialogue between the two utterly crackles, and the actors are committed to the roles and clearly having a good time playing them.

McAdams, on the other hand, is the weak link here (much like Katie Holmes in "Batman Begins").  Her character isn't particularly well-developed, and though her scenes with Downey have a certain spark, it's hard not to notice just how slight her role is.  She does well enough with it, I suppose, but there's just not much here.  The ending leaves it open to a sequel, so if Irene Adler returns to muck up Holmes' feelings again, perhaps they'll inject a bit more into her character.

"Sherlock Holmes" doesn't feel much like an origin story so much as the beginning of a story.  Holmes and Watson are already established as a famous crime-fighting team, but Holmes has yet to meet his famous nemesis, Professor Moriarty (who appears only in shadow, as a mysterious mastermind).  Hopefully when the sequel rolls around, Holmes and Moriarty can have showcase scenes together; these two intellects butting heads are a classic matchup that I'd love to see done in this new style of Holmes.

This film is a bit overlong, I was checking my watch a couple of times, but for most of its runtime, it moves at a snappy pace and is quite enjoyable.  The action sequences are fun, performances are utterly first-rate, and the dialogue is a joy.