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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Blu-ray Review


Let me begin this review by saying that I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. Like many of you I’m sure, it all started with a movie called Young Sherlock Holmes that was directed by Barry Levinson and produced by Steven Spielberg. That movie spurred me into reading every single Sherlock Holmes story that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. I didn’t just devour the stories either as I also watched all of the great movies that were made with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce up to the excellent television series starring Jeremy Brett. On top of all that, there have been countless radio dramas, plays, movies, and re-imaginings throughout the years which brings us to the latest reinvention of Holmes by director Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr. as the inestimable Holmes with Jude Law as Dr. Watson. This latest effort to update and modernize Holmes depends on how precious you are about the source material and your appreciation of Downey Jr.’s take on the celebrated sleuth.


THE FILM

The film opens with a wonderful shot of a dark, rain slicked cobblestone street as a carriage whisks by only to be followed by the camera after a delicious pause as the viewers join in the chase by proxy. We follow the carriage as it winds its way through a dark atmospheric London that we have rarely seen on screen before. Thus, the movie begins right in the middle of a case as Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) are en route to stop a serial killer before he can kill again. The decision to start the movie in this fashion without the usual back story that shows Holmes and Watson’s beginnings is a brave decision that might have possible thrown some viewers that were not aware of the duo’s history.

By assuming that most people have a general understanding of that history, Ritchie is able to jump right into the action from the start which brings us to another reason why some Holmes purists may object to the movie which is that this is primarily an action film. Although in the books, Holmes employed a fighting style known as Baritsu, he rarely had to employ it but when he did such as his fight with his nemesis Moriarity, he was quite effective. In this movie, not only does he participate in club fights, he uses his analytical prowess to win in the fastest time by planning his moves far in advance. Ritchie uses a flash-forward slo-mo shot where we are witness to Holmes’s meticulous planning only to see him then actually perform the same moves in real time to disastrous effect. The third reason why some purists may object to this retelling is the apparent use of the supernatural which really didn’t play a part in the stories although the subject fascinated Conan Doyle who was a believer in such things. The movie managers to have it’s cake and eat it too as viewers won’t be sure whether or not the dark Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) really has mystical powers or not.


Like all good mysteries this has many twists and turns as we follow the 19th century dynamic duo through London as they try to ascertain what is going on. The appearance of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) as the one person who has bested Holmes adds another wrinkle to the plot as she requests help from Holmes in tracking down a dwarf for her mysterious benefactor. The scenes between Holmes and Adler are played for comedic effect as it’s easy to see they both care for the other but Holmes’s paranoia is especially funny as he is constantly worried about being bested again. That doesn’t stop him from accepting the case though and that kicks off a series of action set pieces as Holmes and Watson follow the trail. 

Speaking of Watson, the interplay between him and Holmes is not only true to the source but also honest and funny. Both men have their flaws and it’s obvious that they are better together than separate which Holmes understands and the reason that he does all he can to keep Watson away from his fiancĂ© Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly.) Also making an appearance from the books, Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) joins in the case as the Scotland Yard detective that is always five steps behind Holmes. The cast is rounded out by James Fox as a high ranking bureaucrat and a great performance by frequent Ritchie collaborator Mark Strong as the mesmerizing Lord Blackwood. I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention the great soundtrack by Hans Zimmer that made me immediately think of the Harry Lime theme from The Third Man. It’s a fantastic soundtrack that somehow straddles the line between being right for the time period as well as modern thanks to the skill of its composer. The music is a character in tself and adds a lot of fun and energy to the movie.


Final Thoughts

I highly recommend this movie for all Sherlock Holmes fan and especially to the people that have never liked Sherlock Holmes. This modernized update should be able to bring both camps together thank to the great cast, music, and direction.

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