Guy Ritchie's take on famed and loved literary character Sherlock Holmes was going to veer slightly from the classic image of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character. The somewhat accepted version of Holmes is a rather stately gentleman who is an expert in using little clues to solve much bigger mysteries. He is well-dressed, well-spoken and highly intelligent. Enter Richie who takes Holmes and does a complete 180 with him, most of the time for the better in the recently released Sherlock Holmes.
The casting choice for Holmes could be seen as an odd one -- American actor Robert Downey Jr. -- but that's the least of the movie's troubles. I shouldn't say that, it sounds too negative, but the movie does have it's flaws. Downey Jr. takes Ritchie's idea and runs with it, transforming the renowned detective into a scruffy brawler who is nonetheless a highly observant, highly intelligent individual who is as likely to throw a punch and down some booze as he is to solve a case. To say the least, Downey Jr. makes him an eccentric and to the movie's benefit.
Working with his sidekick and roomate (more on that later) Dr. Watson (Jude Law), London detective Sherlock Holmes prevents a serial killer, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), from killing his sixth female victim in an exciting opening sequence. Blackwood is imprisoned and hung some three months later with Watson pronouncing him dead at the scene. It's not long though before the police come in search of Holmes' help. Blackwood has apparently risen from the dead and looks to keep a promise he made to Holmes; he'll continue to terrorize London and then later England, the U.S. and the entire world. Not a believer in black magic in the least, Holmes goes about solving the mystery which gets murkier when a woman from his past, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), gets involved.
Sherlock Holmes received somewhat mixed reviews but is still raking in the cash in theaters. I love going to the movies and was excited to see this one, but still came away like I had missed something. It was a movie I wanted to love but only ended up liking it. Thinking back on it, I can't even figure out why which confuses me even more. Maybe it was the audience I saw it with, but the humourous elements fell short. There were some chuckles here and there but never any laugh out loud moments. Making Holmes a brawler works in two early scenes as he explains in voiceover how he'll win the battle through slow-motion and then does it in the matter of a second or two. But with the exception of the finale, the action seems oddly out of place and even slows the movie down.
The casting is not surprisingly the best part of the movie. Downey Jr. has another successful franchise on his hands if he wants it (yeah, yeah, the ending leaves the door wide open for a sequel) and breathes life into a character that might have been rather stuffy with another actor. Playing loyal Watson, Jude Law matches Downey step for step and scene for scene. His Watson is the straight man to Holmes' antics, but he's also an ally -- sometimes unwillingly so -- in Holmes' adventures. As for the roommate thing, I'm still trying to decide if Ritchie tried to make the two characters come off as gay. There's obviously a bromance going on here with Holmes and Watson bickering like an old married couple, especially now that Watson is engaged. Their relationship is played for laughs and works nicely, providing some of the movie's best moments and many of those already mentioned chuckles.
Rounding out the lead trio, Rachel McAdams handles herself well as Irene Adler, a female version of Holmes, an ass-kicking con woman who's duped Sherlock at least twice. It's not the best-written part and she disappears for extended segments in the 1st hour, but McAdams makes the most of it. One other fault that comes to mind is the lack of a strong villain. Strong's Blackwood just isn't given enough development, and the explanations in the end for his other-worldly abilities take his character down another notch. As an intellectual, he's a perfect foe for Holmes but the part feels underwritten. Eddie Marsan has a good part as a London inspector, Robert Maillet plays an enormous thug who keeps crossing paths with Holmes and Watson, and Kelly Reilly is Mary, Watson's fiance who must fight with Holmes for his affection.
I'm definitely going to have to think some more about this one because it has all the elements of what could have been a really exciting, very professional movie. Composer Hans Zimmer assembled an atypical score that works nicely, including a catchy theme for Holmes. The cast is very reliable and the story is interesting enough, but something just didn't click for me. I'd still recommend seeing it, but it's not a very strong recommendation. I liked this movie, but I wanted to love it.
Sherlock Holmes <----trailer (2009): ** 1/2 /****