Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

***1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Sherlock Holmes on the big screen... about time. Mercurial talent and comeback-kid extraordinaire Robert Downey Jr in the lead... fantastic choice. Lock, Stock and perennial gangster-flick helmer Guy Ritchie as director... wait? Really? A surprising choice sure, but having grown up listening to Holmes stories through the loudspeakers of his boarding school dormitory, Ritchie was keen to bring us his own take. And that he inarguably does.

He joins the duo as they are supposedly finishing up their supposed last case together. Consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and trusted partner Dr Watson (Jude Law) capture the serial killer Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). However, before hanging, Blackwood announces that he will rise again to take over London with his supernatural abilities. As the duo investigate, matters are complicated by the arrival of Holmes' untrustworthy ex, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams).

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For those that baulked at the explosion-filled, setpiece-heavy trailer, you can rest a little easier as this re-interpretation isn't quite the ultra-dumb sacrilege the promo piece hinted at. That said, it’s definitely (and purposefully) a more action-led and contemporary take to satisfy modern audiences, with a hero who's as much a swashbuckler as he is a stuffy intellectual. Still, while the Holmes faithful will probably write off this revamp, there are a few exciting action scenes (a fire shrapnel explosion is particularly well-done) and the internal monologues employed twice work particularly well...

Still, while it’s undoubtedly done Ritchie-style (breakneck pace, copious slow-mo shots, hyperactive editing), it’s more faithful to Conan Doyle's vision than the trailer suggested. Sure, we don't hear the word 'elementary’ (we do hear "the game's afoot") and there's no deerstalker hat (do we really need that?), but Holmes is the same sometimes-impulsive, occasionally-petty but always-brilliant sleuth. Though an original story not from any of Doyle's 60 "canonical" tales, there are enough familiar elements (just) to satisfy the crowd’s thinkers.

Among these is the use of Holmes’ famous deductive skills and the married couple-style relationship he shares with Watson. As much as the pre-release hype mentioned Butch and Sundance, their dynamic is actually identical to that of TV's House and his buddy Wilson (unsurprising, given that they were based on Conan Doyle's detective pairing). Elsewhere we may get a semi over-powering score from Hans Zimmer - which he accurately describes as "the Pogues joining a Romanian orchestra - but the production is so fantastic that the locations never look anything other than authentic.

Cast-wise, Downey Jr is as spot-on as expected, Jude Law is similarly - though more surprisingly - ideal in the role of Doctor Watson and Mark Strong is menacing enough despite the weaker-than-needed mystery (the teasing hints at the inevitable follow-up look more promising...). As the love interests, its not that Rachel MacAdams and Kelly Reilly (as Watson's squeeze) are bad, it's just that they're totally, and rightly, overshadowed by the Holmes/Watson dynamic while possibly only existing to prove our heroes are straight. Oh well, at least Eddie Marsan pops up with a few laughs.

Not quite the Sherlock Holmes' the faithful will want, but Guy Ritchie's modern take is better than expected.

Reviewed on: 14 Jan 2010
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Sherlock Holmes packshot
Holmes and Watson take on a dastardly aristocrat, but matters are complicated by a beautiful and dangerous woman.
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Val Kermode ***

Director: Guy Ritchie

Writer: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly

Year: 2009

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK, Australia, US

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