Sherlock Holmes Review

Posted on January 25, 2010 by

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Let’s be honest, you were sceptical when it came out that Robert Downey Junior was going to be Sherlock Holmes. Then you went from scepticism to outright doom-mongering when Guy Ritchie was announced as the director. Everybody was predicting Holmes as a cockney gangster, which makes what has actually happened all the sweeter- This movie is good.

This isn’t the usual Holmesian fare, though. Where, in Arthur Conan-Doyles tales, Holmes was usually recovering diamonds and investigating small mysteries, here the stakes are somewhat larger- The British Empire. Things begin in Media Res, with Holmes thwarting and capturing the Fiendish Lord Blackwood, (And let’s face it, with a name like that, you can pretty much only grow up to be evil) who was in the middle of performing some devious occult rites of a kidnapped girl. He gets carted off to the tanty to be held until his death sentence can be carried out, and that would seem to be that. We then jump forward a number of weeks to find Holmes, caseless and depressed, living in squalor and starting to go mad from having nothing to do. His situation is made worse as his partner, the inimitable Watson, is engaged to a woman and will be leaving him. Holmes is then informed that Blackwood has chosen him as his last request, and he is more than happy to oblige.

Blackwood goes about the typical villainous monologue about how his magical powers will lead him to rule the world, and how he will yet murder three more people and there’s no way Holmes can stop him, before getting promptly hanged and pronounced dead by Watson himself. The real story then begins a day or two later, when Blackwood rises from the grave and… well, that would be telling. All of this happens in the first ten minutes or so, and provides excellent introductions to each of the characters.

What a lot of people were concerned about was Robert Downy Jr. playing Holmes. Besides the fact that he’s an American, (And we know he can do a flawless English accent after seeing him Chaplin) I couldn’t think of anyone better. What other actor could portray a quirky, talented substance abuser with more conviction? Downy’s been there and back again. His Holmes is more energetic than most other portrayals, save perhaps Jeremy Brett in his later years as he succumbed to Manic Depression (And, some people would believe, became Holmes in his head). Downy presents Holmes as jittery, hyper-aware and mentally fragile. Not having anything to do, or getting some wrong will drive him into a deep depressive fit, and his deductive abilities, while almost all in the realm of the canny (You could do it yourself if you had the time) but remain prodigiously impressive nonetheless. He even plays the Violin. Well, he plucks at it, anyway. Downy probably can’t play it himself. He is a fighter, but no more so than the Holmes of the stories, who was a skilled boxer and martial artist, and while his cocain abuse is obliquely mentioned, it only remains conjecture at this point, because you can’t talk about stuff like that in a 12A.

Jude Law was another strange choice for Watson, but again he fits the bill superbly. He makes a believable foil and the two have obvious chemistry to the point of having some sort of romantic yet platonic relationship. He’s also not your typical Watson- He’s picked up some of Holmes deductive reasoning, is more than capable in a fight, and it smart enough to push Holmes buttons. This is one of the first times since Sky Captain that i’ve found Law entertaining to watch, and I can only hope he continues to play the role.

The story is intelligent and keeps you guessing, but it still gives you every clue as the heroes find it, though i’ve yet to find anyone who worked it all out before Holmes did, and gives you tantalising glimpses of previous and future adventures throughout- Professor Moriarty is mentioned as the sequel-hook, and there are a number of shout-outs to previous versions of Holmes, for example, the opening shot of Baker Street is, shot for shot, identical to the opening of the 1980’s Granada series with Jeremy Brett, and bonuses for the audience who know their stuff, like a scene where Holmes leaves his revolver behind, causing Watson to remark ‘he left it there on purpose’ to the dog, the Revolver is a Webley Bulldog. Ritchie has found a winning formula here- one that could save his reputation after the fiasco of Rock n’ Rolla, and seems intent of having Downy in a time-share with Marvel so we get an Iron man film one year and a Holmes film the next, an arrangement that suits me no end.

Something that really stood out for me in this film was the score. Composed by the musical genius that is Hans Zimmer, who has worked on Thelma & Louise, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight, The Road to El-Dorado and even Muppet Treasure Island, to name but a few of his projects, has outdone himself with the score to Holmes. He used a Banjo, a Cimbalon, ‘squeaky violins’ and a ‘broken pub piano’ (Which he achieved by renting 20th Century Fox’s underground car park for a day and going to town on a Piano with hammers and crowbars) which come together to form a believable period sound that starts off as noise and somehow clicks in your head and suddenly becomes very likeable and catchy, so much so that I downloaded it from iTunes before even seeing the film itself.

I strongly recommend seeing this film, it’s an enjoyable, intelligent action romp, and Downy Jr. is one of the best Holmes’ to grace the screen. I look forward to the sequel, (I want to see Hugh Laurie cameo as Mycroft Holmes). The game is now well and truly afoot!

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Posted in: Movies