My first film viewing of the New Year, Sherlock Holmes was fun and not at all disappointing – that is, my expectations were set for an entertaining film, not something true to a literary tradition. It’s not a Holmes Aficionados’ sort of Sherlock Holmes, although said aficionados must acknowledge the pleasure of seeing Dr. Watson restored to a non-bumbling status as a decorated war veteran and real medical doctor.
Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes is scruffy, downright Grunge, terribly witty, terribly depressed, terribly unkempt. He appears quite fit – Basil Rathbone was a fine and fit fencer, as well, of course, but Basil Rathbone kept his clothes on. Jude Law is also quite fit, which is not problematical for Dr. Watson. Just for Nigel Bruce. All in all, the duo are a pleasure to watch.
Mr. Ritchie (Guy, of “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and Madonna’s Ex fame) does a brisk and entertaining job of directing what is doubtless a first film in a series. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are clear equals on camera and work marvelously well together.
Kelley Reilly looks vaguely familiar, may always appear so to viewers. She has a quiet strength as Watson’s fiancée, Mary, who can keep Dr. Watson in line and hold her own with Sherlock Holmes. No mean feat. I could have done with more of Ms. Reilly, and I could wish for more of Geraldine James’ very interesting Mrs. Hudson. Gladstone the dog had more screen time than she did, which is unfortunate. Nothing against the dog, I like dogs, and Gladstone’s running joke was sweet. I just like the character of Mrs. Hudson and the actor Geraldine James and would like to see more of her. Them.
Mark Strong’s villain Lord Blackwood is worthy of Holmes – Strong is particularly reliable in the secondary and tertiary roles I generally see him in. Love that voice. Hans Matheson as Lord Coward was appropriately smarmy but not subtly played since I knew he was the secondary villain the moment he appeared on screen. James Fox was his usual solid-as-a-rock aristocrat as “Sir Thomas” – a very high fellow in the hierarchy of the Brit government of the time, and that’s all I can tell you until you’ve seen the film.
Rachel McAdams, although a respectable performer, is at least a decade too young for the choice role of Irene Adler. She hasn’t the heft, the inner darkness, the cosmopolitan air, the savoir faire, the je ne sais quoi for Irene Adler. Not yet. Her scenes with Mr. Downey are well written but she does not match him. And Irene Adler is always a match for Sherlock Holmes. Ms. McAdams’ scenes fall flat, and that is disappointing.
I wish I was saying that Jennifer Ehle made a slyly powerful villainess/love interest as Irene Adler. She’d be my casting for Adler. A few years younger than Downey (looking more than a few years younger, but that’s about Downey’s life), Ehle can play a contemporary of Downey’s Holmes and is more than capable of playing Irene Adler. Her stage and screen credits make for a longer and better list than Ms. McAdams’, so she should not give any producer pause. These people should call me before they miscast good actresses.
Screenwriters Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg wrote a snappy screenplay based on a sharp story by Johnson and Lionel Wigram. Nevertheless, there’s a dip, a lessening of tension in the film. I’ll need to see it again to figure out where it dropped in the third quarter, as if everyone took a little break. This requires re-examination. I think it coincides with the loud noises. Biggest problem outside of casting was: Explosions. Too many, too big -- the 8-year-old boy in Mr. Ritchie had too much control in certain sections of the film. One would have been plenty, but the continuation made the effect quite unbelievable. Any more would be a spoiler, so I’ll be quiet now.
So let’s get down to it. Is Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock the Sherlock of the stories I’ve read multiple times over the last ~4 decades? No. I adore Downey and will see anything he plays in. And play is the word. He is having so much fun as Holmes we are obliged to join in. While not Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, he is the Sherlock Holmes in this screenplay – and in those that will doubtless follow.
Jude Law’s Dr. Watson is not Nigel Bruce’s charming but bumbling Dr. Watson, but Nigel Bruce’s charming bumbler was not Doyle’s Watson either. After all, bumbling was Nigel Bruce’s specialization (see him in Hitchcock’s Suspicion). Did Holmes aficionados complain then? I don’t know, it was the 1930s and ‘40s and I wasn’t born yet. Jude Law and the screenwriters have restored Watson’s dignity and gravitas without robbing us of this wonderful stimulating (keep your imagination in check, there) relationship between Holmes and Watson. This Holmes and Watson joust, they parry; one pushes, the other pulls back; they throw punches, they protect each other; it’s a bit of a bromance, no denying it. And it’s fun.
In the PBS series (or the series we in the U.S. saw on PBS), Jeremy Brett gave us the Holmes who was not entirely an armchair detective. Brett was, to me, totally the Holmes of the stories. I love watching Downey work and he’s certainly taken the gloves off of Sherlock Holmes (quite literally in a bare knuckles boxing match), but he won’t replace Brett’s Holmes in my mind.
Sherlock Holmes aficionados may rejoice, however. I believe the uninitiated will read the stories now. Some may say What? Who? This is not the Sherlock played by Downey. Others, though, once introduced, will fall under the spell of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant and deeply flawed detective as the rest of us have.
Some viewers may take issue with the final deduction showing up in a quick cut of scenes we have seen. It was all there for us, as all the clues in a classic mystery detection story should be. I loved that section. It was old fashioned, done meticulously, quickly, didn’t pound us over the head, merely reminded us of those thing we did not watch closely enough. Not a standard sequence for an action film, but Holmes is a detective, not a superhero. Some may also have a problem with the mockery of the religious faith, zeal and idiocy of, well all sorts of people, but particularly secret societies, that permeates the story. This to me was quite enjoyable.
Scenic design and execution were beautiful; my favorite interior was the oddly multi-roomed lab of the “ginger-haired dwarf” named Reardon. Least favorite: the terribly obvious half built bridge. Lighting, colors, lack of saturation thereof, all these evoked a black and white and gray London of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s era. Hans Zimmer was responsible for the music, all of which was quite enjoyable, even if hearing The Dubliners was, while amusing, decidedly odd.
So. Looks: 9. Content: 6.5. Performances…wonderful Downey, Law, Reilly, James, Fox, Strong, and many other characters. I was disappointed only in the casting of a perfectly capable actress in a role for which she is too young. Not Ms McAdams’ fault. Not the screenwriters fault – they wrote Irene Adler well. Director and producers (one of whom is Mr. Downey’s wife) must take the blame for doing Ms. McAdams and the film a disservice. (I have since read on Wikipedia that McAdams was Downey’s idea. If so, don’t let him produce! Just give him free rein as the fine actor he is.) I presume I'm supposed to be grateful they didn't cast Scarlett Johansson. And I am.
The plot was complicated without being indecipherable. And the incognito appearance of – oh, that would be a spoiler also, never mind. The severely cloaked fellow was a delightful tease.
Sidebar: Why is it that easily 80% of the scenes of the trailers are not in the film I saw? Not that I mind – I hate seeing 80% of a film in the trailers. The Sherlock Holmes trailers showed me the most important part of the film – the relationship between Holmes & Watson – without telling me the whole story. This is a pro in my three columns (pro, con, and not-sure-yet).
And what about that Raven?
~ Molly Matera, signing off and turning off the computer. I’ve got some old stories to re-read.