Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes


Reviewed by: Val Kermode

Sherlock Holmes must have seemed like a perfect subject to Guy Ritchie. He’s got the London setting, the double dealing, the fights ... Yes, this is a very fit Sherlock Holmes, a bare-knuckle fighter in fact, and much given to chasing about and jumping out of buildings. Robert Downey Jr carries this off well. He's minus the deerstalker, but he still has the pipe, though he doesn’t do much smoking. He’s very fond of guns (he would have to be) and he’s an all-round inventor, experimenting with musical chords, anaesthetic and the development of a silencer.

Jude Law gives an admirably unshowy performance as Dr Watson, not the usual buttoned-up partner but a smart ex-military man who is quite Holmes’ equal in daring. So what we have is a buddy movie, with Holmes showing his dependence on Watson by trying to sabotage the latter’s relationship with his fiancee, Mary. (Am I alone in thinking there’s something rather sinister about Mary? I doubt she will last long in the sequel.)

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The mystery to be solved concerns the evil Lord Blackwood – an undemanding role for the fine actor Mark Strong, but he looks suitably menacing with his fascist haircut and long leather coat. Blackwood has been murdering people and practising black magic, so he is duly hanged. He is certified dead by Dr Watson himself, but then he appears to have risen from the grave and all of London is terrified. How did he do it? What will happen now?

Enter Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), a beautiful master criminal who still carries a torch for Holmes but is playing a double game. The plot has many twists and turns but no real surprises. There is hardly any suspense and never any change of tempo. Or to put it in a positive light, it rattles along at a good pace with plenty of self-mocking humour. There are a couple of running gags – the jumping from buildings which doesn’t always work and the lock picking. Holmes carries a large fold-out kit for this purpose, but never quite manages to use it.

At least two elements are reminiscent of James Bond movies. One scene finds our heroes in exactly the same predicament as Bond in Goldfinger, though its origins go back to Saturday kids’ matinees and beyond that to silent film. And it still works.

One thing never in short supply in a Guy Ritchie movie is comedy fighting. This time he seems to have lowered the violence level, but the choreography is strong and he makes good use of the river and the industries along its banks. He is fond of his landmarks. In RocknRolla it was the new Wembley Stadium. Here it’s Tower Bridge, still in the process of construction.

There is one big surprise near the end for anyone with even a smattering of London geography. I haven’t seen such an implausible distance covered since Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. But to say any more would spoil the fun.

Ritchie employs his usual filming style of brief flashbacks, slow motion action scenes, the slowing down of sound and some tricksy camera angles, including a giddy upside down shot as someone recovers from a blow to the head. He has fun with the domestic details, and if there’s an Oscar for best bathtub this film will be a winner.

What seems to guarantee a sequel is the playing of the two leads, who have breathed new life into the Holmes and Watson partnership. For better or worse, it’s not likely to end here.

Reviewed on: 23 Dec 2009
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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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Read more Sherlock Holmes reviews:

Stephen Carty ***1/2

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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