Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No Shit, Sherlock

Fidelity to character. Whenever a major property is adapted to the big screen the internet seems to go up in arms or embrace whole-heartedly depending on how close to the source material the movie hews. When it was announced that stylist Guy Ritchie was going to be directing an action-packed remake of Sherlock Holmes with (gasp) American Robert Downey Jr as Holmes tongues clicked and message boards flamed. "Where's his deerstalker cap? His pipe? Holmes is no fighter!" people cried.

People are idiots.

If Downey's Holmes displays little resemblance to, say, Basil Rathbone's Holmes (and I really must protest, how many of my fellow bloggers have actually sat down and watched all the other iterations of Holmes?) he more than makes up for it to fidelity in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original print creation. The original Holmes is a scrapper, a master of disguise, frequently anti-social and more than willing to indulge in cocaine (reading the text it's his snuff packet that Holmes delves into more than his pipe). Above and beyond all this though is Holmes esire to match his boundless wit and logic against the most puzzling challenges the world of crime has to offer him. Downey's bold, manic energy works PERFECTLY for the character as originally conceived. He bristles at the mundane and domestic and in this film Holmes, the master of reason is placed against a seemingly supernatural foe.
If this film is comparable to any recent release I'd say that Ritchie, Downey and the team of screenwriters has captured the lightning in a bottle that endured audiences to Pirates of the Carribean. Both films attack what could be rather calcified genre pieces with energetic pacing and a modern sensibility. Ritchie finds a good groove as a studio director and makes good use of his speed-up/slow-down to turn Holmes action as an extension of character. Holmes approaches combat as yet another puzzle to solve. In voice-over Downey runs through exactly how to strike and block his opponent to ensure their defeat. It looks cool but doesn't sacrifice Holmes acting and behaving like Holmes. This modern sensibility carries through not only in action but in interaction.
There couldn't really be Holmes without Watson and Jude Law's control and slow-burn serve as an excellent counter-point to Downey's manic bluster. The two actors are fearless enough to play out the Holmes/Watson partnership very much as a bromance. They're not afraid to express their admiration and affection for one another, even when they're driving each other crazy. They're not constantly bickering, but they're definitely not always on the same page. The pot is stirred even further by the fact that Watson is trying to break up the partnership by getting married (a device that leads to a number of amusing scenes as Holmes tries to employ all his cunning to stop the engagement).
 id=Holmes is not without romantic entanglement, though his interest is as much intellectual as sexual. The screenwriters bring in another Doyle character, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) as the one woman who Holmes could ever be interested in because she is as cunning as she is. The character works but she's not as fleshed or fun as Downey and Law. Mark Strong makes an impression as baddie Lord Blackwell (though for once he's outclassed in a film rather than stealing it whole). It doesn't ultimately matter as the film hints at a much better known Holmes nemesis waiting in the wings for a sequel.

But perhaps Holmes biggest villains this time out are his detractors. One of the most common complaints I've seen leveled at this film is that Holmes doesn't do any mystery solving. I can't fathom what movie the people who are making this complaint were watching. While the true villain is never in question, the film more than tickles fancy as a how-did-they-do-it as opposed to a whodunit. Ritchie plays fair, having his camera pan on relevant clues throughout. He leaves a trail for those as observant as Holmes to follow and the solutions are quite fun. The film only really falters at the very end when it tries to give the thing a Michael Bay-ish set-piece with Holmes climbing a massive piece of construction after he and his cohorts race to disarm a bomb. It's a bit much and the climax is ultimately more interested in having Holmes reveal the nature of his deduction anyway.

The bottom line is Sherlock Holmes flat out works as entertainment that is smarter and more fun then it has any right to be. Why? Because explosions don't matter, it's character that counts.


Football Chick said...

Character counts, sure. But don't forget sexiness. The sexiness of Robert Downey's Holmes is quite important.

El Gigante said...

Yeah I won't lie, there is a lot to gush over in this movie. Jude Law is foiiiiiiine.