By - WILLIAM MAYER
January 5, 2010 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - It was with a certain amount of negative prejudgment that I recently screened Guy Ritchie's new work, Sherlock Holmes, with our Cultural Editor having warned me that the movie, was good but could have gone straight to DVD.
With that in mind, it was surprising then to see the story rendered so flawlessly, updated rather tastefully for a modern audience not accustomed to the dour, turgid presence of Basil Rathbone and comical antics of Nigel Bruce as Watson, circa the 1930s.
The plot, though perhaps overreaching [arch villain Lord Blackwood seeks to dominate the world through feigned magical powers] serves to showcase the characters and provide motivation for the substantial departure the writers [Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg] have taken from the original.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., as Sherlock Holmes, Jude Law as Dr. John Watson, Rachel McAdams as the femme fatale Irene Adler and Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood the roles are perfectly cast for the quirky moodiness of the work, which sees Holmes a troubled but brilliant savant on a mission to save the world and Watson his steady companion and foil, albeit one over fond of gambling and skilled in the art of avoiding marriage.
In supporting roles, Downey's antagonist/love interest believably gravitates between sexy and vulnerable seasoned with a considerable dose of steel. The scene where she menacingly cracks walnuts in one hand being one of many deft touches to her character and the film in general. Strong is well cast as thin-shouldered, vaguely vampire-ish Lord Blackwood and he proves himself at ease in evoking the sense of cruel coldness appropriate for a wannabe master of the world.
The cinematography is superlative, verging on stunning in some instances and far better than one might expect in what has been variously and incorrectly characterized as a formulaic set-piece. The blocking of scenes is flawless and camera angles were well chosen, leaving the action framed in such a manner as to subtly enhance the story.
The colors, tones and the use of light and darkness are also a cut above. London of the 1870s is beautifully [if almost mournfully] rendered; all the hustle characterizing the grandeur, the peak if you will of the British empire set against dank brownstones lit by an omnipresent and oppressive sepia tinged sky. The interiors are fittingly moody and appropriately lit, with a hint of foreboding and doom.
Additionally Zimmer's score finely meshes with the script. As one might now expect with his substantial credits, it never seems show-offy or gets in the way.
Though one, schooled with the subdued malevolence of let's say The Hounds of the Baskervilles, might not expect such a virile, not to mention overtly pugilistic, Holmes, Downey's innate quirkiness makes it work. Holmes cerebral dissection of a loutish bare knuckle opponent before he crushes him according to plan is not only sweet but really in keeping with the original character's calculating sense of coldness. Downey undoubtedly spend a lot of gym time, sculpting his thin form into a taught and muscular, ring-friendly physique.
You got 'em, springing out everywhere and with enough variety to hew to Doyle's original and cerebral Holmes. Nothing earthshaking in this regard, de rigueur but certainly adequate in context, again more than one might expect in a general release flick, especially in this genre.
Now some critics have attempted [not successfully in my opinion] to pass the new Sherlock Holmes off as a shallow action hero romp, the overuse of special effects is really little in evidence, with pyrotechnics being largely reserved to applications where they are appropriate and not at all gratuitous. The plot is consistent with vintage Holmes and Watson, simply updated in the mold of Daniel Craig's Bond.
Along these lines I tire greatly of "purer than thou" type reviews in general - sorry Mr. Ebert, Sherlock Holmes is no Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens, but what is? Such scribblers often have well-formed attitudes going in the movie house [whoops, screening room, Roger] often writing from a perspective quite remote from the matter at hand. In general, many of these types couldn't care less about the movie and have no appreciation for the incredible technical/storytelling/editing/scoring expertise necessary to even crank out competent boiler plate.
Likewise some commentators have bitched about the run time [128 minutes] but to this reviewer the length was appropriate to the telling of the story, which of course was constructed to warrant a sequel - who could blame them?
All in all Sherlock Holmes rises above the mundane nature of so many big budget Hollywood films. Look out, it's a possible sleeper which should - devoid of the industry's pervasive internal politics - find some degree of favor with the judges as the Academy Awards approach in early March.
Will this happen?
We say check it out...no gratuitous sex or violence, everything in its place, consistently engaging - a family movie with a soul, 4 1/2 stars.
Movie: Sherlock Holmes, Warner Bros.
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., as Sherlock Holmes
Jude Law as Dr. John Watson
Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler
Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood
Rating: PG-13 [Violence]
Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg - screenplay
Lionel Wigram, Michael Robert Johnson - story
Score - Hans Zimmer
Run time - 128 minutes
©1999-2010 PipeLineNews.org, William Mayer. All rights reserved.
Now for a contrasting view:
Sherlock Holmes - A Review
BY - TOM FREDRIKSEN, PipeLineNews.org Culture Editor
January 5, 2010 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - It isn't often I review currently running movies. Personally, I feel a good movie, or any movie for that matter must simmer on the back of one's mind, gestating amid reflections both conscious and sub-conscious, until a proper opinion can be properly birthed.
Such was to be the case concerning the release and review of Madonna's ex Director Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and his?what is the word?remake? No that's not it. Ah yes, blasphemy of the beloved Sherlock Holmes genre. Events beyond my control force an early hand.
I speak of genre as at the heart, a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, either in print or IMAXed film is first and foremost a mystery tale.
Or it should be.
The currently running movie well cast and starring Robert Downey Jr. [Chaplin, Iron Man] hits most of the marks on cue, classical elements of a Holmes mystery. Downey's earlier work in portraying Charlie Chaplin allowed him the ability to slip into the accent easily and in the end one of the reasons Ritchie abandoned his search for a younger Holmes and went with Downey.
Someone should have reminded Ritchie that they already did "Young Sherlock Holmes" a few years ago.
The problem is, despite the skilled work by Downey, his attempt to add some credibility to the Holmes character itself got in the way of the special effects, and farciflul plot. They seemed more obligatory than central.
Certainly Downey managed to work in his "elementary" deductions, however, in my opinion Director Guy Ritchie treated them as elementary school.
The script deviated from a traditional Holmes mystery in that the subject matter was plain unbelievable. To a modern generation unfamiliar with the collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and unable to know the difference, I imagine such an individual would leave the theater thinking they had seen a great action adventure movie.
To those having grown up with the character, the stories, and the purity, I can't imagine anyone leaving the parking lot thinking they had seen anything other than....just another fairly good action movie.
Central to the core of the Holmes character was his flaw(s). Drug abuse, mistrusting women [those in the know understand his trust issues] and of course his inability to interact on a social level with anyone other than his trusted Dr. Watson.
Watson, played so so by actor Jude Law who I have never been impressed with despite his continued casting in major motion pictures that also fail to live up to the hype. Speilburg's 2001 Artificial Intelligence comes to mind, was the sober ying to the ever impulsive yang of what Doyle envisioned as a cocaine addicted flat mate.
Ritchie instead, cast Law to be more than a the traditional curmudgeonly newspaper reading retired doctor and inserted him into the fray of the action adventure. Dear loveable Watson, Kicking in doors, fighting henchmen ?please. Watson, as demonstrated by Nigel Bruce in the 1945 classic "Pursuit to Algiers" is more apt to shoot first into the dark and ask questions later. A comic foil to the proper and always in control Holmes.
The bumbling Costelloish comic relief character entwined deeply within all of the Holmes mysteries is what makes the novels work and draws attention to the intelligence of Holmes himself. By elevating this rather dim witted second banana to the equal of the hero, Ritchie goes too far. In my opinion the director would have been well served by hiring an assistant to whack him in the back of the head with a copy of " A Study in Scarlet" every time he came up with one of his great ideas.
Frankly I could have lived with the deviations. Hey, I am a hip and with it kind of guy. I like new things. But Watson with a love interest, a degenerate gambler? What's next, Prof Moriarity as a Wall Street Investment Banker? Mrs. Hudson a hot 20 something property management account manager? Oh, and Holmes apparently is a stranger to raiding Watson's doctor bag for drugs.
I can't take anymore.Or at least I thought I couldn't.
Enter the film bad guy.
As if I had not been asked to swallow and suspend reality enough, now we are expected to believe in villain Christ-like resurrection and the ability to manufacture electronic equipment in dreary damp period Victorian London that would cause scientists at Bell Laboratory and JPL to take notice.
THE FATAL FLAW
Ritchie failed miserably in his omission of perhaps the most important central character of any Holmes novel. I can not fault him though as he is British and from my understanding lives in London. I am not sure his physical relation to 221B Baker street. Please no mail telling me it doesn't exist, leave me that delusion.
The central character is late 19th century creepy, foggy, dirty and dangerous London itself. It could be that a successful work on this subject can not be tackled by anyone from England anymore. Too close to material.
Speaking from this side of the pond, Doyle introduced Victorian London to us as youngsters. Ritchie tried, but didn't hit the mark.
Ritchie's portrayal of the city was as obligatory as his treatment of the characters themselves, more of a problem to work into the script and a "lens" issue than filling the viewer with the danger of the streets and crime oozing between the cracks and decay of the cobble stone streets.
Ritchie's Victorian vision had cobble stones alright, but they looked too well kept, the fog not right, and making everything drab in a deliberate fashion came across as trying too hard to create something that should have been easy.
Oh, and apparently in the director's mind, everyone had perfect teeth.
I don't mind sequels, in fact I enjoy them when done right. I would be remiss not to mention that the foil to Holmes and his equal, Prof Morality does indeed make shadowy appearance in the film. In fact one finds out in the end that he has been secretly pulling the strings and winds up with the previously mentioned science fair project. Just in time to set up the sequel. I cant stand that and find it insulting.
I am leaving a critique out of yet another obligatory insertion by Ritchie into the movie, Canadian actress Rachel McAdams. A beautiful woman to be sure, but again a leap into unbelieveability. Traditionally Holmes doesn't dislike women, he just doesn't trust them.
McAdams, in the movie, is from Brooklyn and apparently an action figure herself flitting in and out of situations and action sequences. Swords, martial arts, etc., all from a period of time where women didn't smoke or gasp?wear pants. There are so many points to discuss here I will just sum it up with one. Sherlock Homes would never, ever, under any circumstances take up with a brazen un-lady like uncouth American woman.
What would they say at the club. What would they say.
This movie was a high budget coming out party as such for Writer/Director Guy Ritchie. A director I am frankly fond of when he sticks to what he is good at. Namely, action adventure with a gritty modern urban setting. His earlier work with actor Jason Statham [Revolver, Snatch] showed his talent. So much so that Hollywood big money took notice and is allowing him to see-what-he-can-do.
Ritchie is better when he writes the script and has full control. In the case of this movie he was handed a screen play by Michael Robery Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg. Based on Lionel Wigram's story and Doyle's characters.
Ritchie's forte, his ability to entwine interesting characters into great plots without a loss to either, makes him unique. One can only assume that the deviation and splitting him off from the writing into a strict director role took something away from what could have been a great film. Had Ritchie been turned loose the changes to the familiar Holmes story and background would have played better. Much like letting Tarantino remake "The Wizard of Oz." We would eat it up with a spoon.
Look, the fight scenes in Sherlock Holmes were top notch, Downey was on fire, the music score and cinematography were almost perfect.
I just wish they used it all to make a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
3 out of 5 Stars I would have given it four stars as an action adventure movie, however, after reading my review I took it down a notch.
©2010 Tom Freriksen. All rights reserved.