Monday, December 28, 2009

Sherlock Holmes 2009!

The new movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law opened Christmas Day and I was only able to get to see it today. Now I will be giving a run down on the film, but I will do my best to leave out spoilers. But, dear reader, you have been warned!

Sherlock Holmes of course is the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The character of Holmes originally appeared in The Strand Magazine, then novelizations of those serials and short stories. Later he would appear on the stage, screen, radio, and cartoons. Countless pastiche have been written about Holmes, and it is said that the character holds the record for appearing in the most films.

Doyle himself did not like the detective, feeling that his historical fiction should have garnered the lion’s share of praise and royalties. Even his attempt to kill off Holmes was met with black arm bands as Londoners mourned the fictional hero. The all mighty need for cash kept Doyle writing the pipe smoking sleuth.

Sherlock Holmes, the world's first consulting detective, not to be confused with a private detective; a cerebral hero, so great was his deductive reasoning he could solve crimes and mysteries from his sitting room at 221B Baker St. His adventures great and small were chronicled by his Boswell, Dr. John Watson, formerly a captain in Her Majesty’s army in the Afghanistan wars.

In the canon of Doyle’s work Holmes and Watson protected the honor of royalty, brought murderers to justice, and even let some go. They worked as agents of the Empire, averting war, or keeping military secrets out of enemy hands, even facing ghostly hounds upon dark moors.

Sherlock Holmes, the new Guy Richie film, brings these two characters to a new audience, with Downey standing beside a long and distinguished line of men to have played Holmes. Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, Roger Moore, Jeremy Brett, and the immortal Basil Rathbone are only a small sampling of well known actors to wear the deer stalker.

The new film takes a fresh look at Holmes and Watson, as each incarnation adds something to the detective. The movie takes place in the late 1880’s based on the character’s ages, and Watson leaving the Baker Street flat to start his marriage. Such events are noted in cannon, as Watson appears to have been married two or three times, having only lived with Holmes early in their friendship.

Events in the film lead Holmes and Watson across a lavishly produced London with its coal smoke and industrial age grime, hansoms clattering along the cobbles. It is a beautiful movie, the period coming to vivid life. The story itself revolves around ritual murder, resurrection, black magic, and an allusion to the Masons.

I found the story engaging, from the mystery to the interpersonal relationships between Holmes, Watson, Irene Adler, and Mary, Watson’s fiancĂ©e. Fast paced and action oriented, this is a Guy Richie film! The action stays within the Victorian realm to me. Holmes martial prowess was noted by Watson in Doyle’s stories, as well as Watson’s own fighting ability. This movie shows the action that Doyle did not think were important elements in his stories. Downey’s Holmes is a methodical fighter tearing his enemy down with well timed blows that are thought out like chess moves. Watson is also a brawler that any military company would like to have in a hand to hand confrontation.

Downey’s Holmes is eccentric and quirky but not distracting or overly comical, many idiosyncrasies falling in line with Doyle’s own work. Jude Law’s Watson is long suffering, but like any true friend he is there through thick and thin, drawn by his own love of the chase and mystery as well as his friendship with Holmes. The story, as action oriented as it is, does not slight Holmes’ investigative ability or his deductive reasoning. The mystery is one Doyle himself might have conceived. (A side note, Jude Law actually had a part in an episode of the Grenada made for TV Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett.)

The only element that I could nit pick, and I think it would be a heated debate among Holmes fans, is Irene Adler’s place in the film. Irene Adler, played by Rachel McAdams only appeared in one Holmes story: A Scandal in Bohemia. In the film she is the femme fatale, Cat Woman to Holmes’ Batman. I would have to re-read this particular story, but this was not how Adler struck me. She is Holmes’ love interest in the film. In the Doyle story Adler beats Holmes at his own game, earning the detective’s respect. As Watson was to say she was always the Woman. I never took this that Holmes had a romantic inclination toward Adler , but rather one of professional admiration. But McAdams plays an interesting character, and the chemistry between Adler and Holmes is great, so I am willing to let that one slide without too much effort.

This is a great film that is overshadowed by the technological wonder that is Avatar. Having not seen that film yet I could not comment further. I will say a Holmes fan will find plenty of Easter Eggs in the film to make them giddy. Despite reviewers comments this was a great film, not Shakespeare, but I was not looking for that. I got what I wanted, a great escape with one of my all time favorite heroes, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

1 comment:

  1. I had a choice between Holmes and Avatar, and I chose to see Holmes. I am damn glad I did. My opinion of the film is spot on with yours. I can't wait for the sequel!