Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
Director: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Michael Robert Johnson, Simon Kinberg
Released: Warner Bros. Pictures (2009)
If there was ever something that prevented me from gravitating towards the legendary literary character, Sherlock Holmes, it was the collection of stodgy and prim presentations of him and Watson in just about every movie and TV adaptation I've ever seen. Thankfully, Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey, Jr. saw fit to add some grit to the Victorian era gumshoe.
Where I used to find characterizations of Holmes and Watson to be bland and banal, the Sherlock Holmes (Downey) and Dr. Watson (Law) of this iteration become hyper-realized, as if the movie is making up for lost time. Holmes is both a cad and an obsessive, while Watson is temperamental and assertive. And both are far more easily drawn into violent confrontations than half the action heroes of modern times.
This is the rock and roll version: the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of 19th century detectives.
Through Ritchie's signature camera work and pace of storytelling, we're introduced to Holmes and Watson at the climax of what is to be their final case together. They apprehend and witness the hanging of notorious criminal mastermind, Lord Blackwood, then must come to terms with the end of their relationship as Watson is engaged to be married and will be moving away from London. The obligatory monkey-wrench comes in the form of the apparent resurrection of Blackwood from the grave and a new plot to bring London to its knees. Not to worry, however, as the supposed supernatural element is just that and is one of the many things Holmes solves/debunks in his rapid-fire assault on every mystery.
Oh, and Rachel McAdams prances about as a thief and con artist, not to mention love interest for Holmes, though her reputation provides much more entertainment--that and her coquettish demeanor--than her actions. While Watson points out she's outwitted Holmes on two previous occasions, she doesn't present much of an opponent or ally for him through the course of this movie. She is easy on the eyes, and mercifully spared audiences with a clumsy fake English accent, so give her points there.
As for the villains, Blackwood seemed all too familiar. Of course, Mark Strong seems to be cast as a villain in any movie he appears in, so that may be part of the problem there, because the performance seems very by-the-numbers. It's the henchmen that steal the show, if anyone, especially that behemoth of a French thug--really a French Maritimer who used to be a professional wrestler--who managed to pull off as good a performance as Andre the Giant did in The Princess Bride all those years ago.
And while there were allusions to Professor Moriarty, and you knew there had to be for it to be a Sherlock Holmes film, any clue as to just how much of an equal to Holmes he is was mild at best. But I suppose they're saving all that for the sequel. And, oh yes, there will most certainly be a sequel to this one.
It's a movie with action, comedy, good music, surprisingly great chemistry among the cast, and a refreshing and very welcome interpretation to Doyle's stories. It didn't reinvent the wheel in the grand scheme of things, but it did enough to make this movie a very enjoyable experience. I'll plead bias though, as I am a fan of just about anything Robert Downey Jr. stars in.