Saturday, December 26, 2009

FILM: Sherlock Holmes

I thoroughly enjoyed the new Sherlock Holmes movie, which was a bit like a Victorian version of Indiana Jones. Some folks may sniff that this Holmes, who is as physically action-packed as James Bond, is not being true to the "real" Sherlock Holmes, but those folks are basing their vision of the deerstalker-capped cerebral detective on all the old films and not so much on the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories. I found Robert Downey Jr.'s realization of the character to be as genuine as it was mold-breaking. His portrayal of Holmes as a robust fighter, a savant with encyclopedic knowledge but sometimes thick social skills, master of disguise and diversion, and an occasionally reckless experimenter with all sorts of chemistry (including drugs), was all spot-on. And Jude Law made a great Doctor Watson, loyal friend, roommate, and partner in crime-fighting. This Watson was a bit smarter than the one in the books, but I think it made him more interesting, and the script's subplot of Watson becoming engaged to be married and moving out added an intriguing dimension to the relationship between Holmes and Watson. The main storyline was smartly conceived and action-packed, keeping you wondering how Holmes will crack this case. Some clues are presented along the way, but as with the original stories, while it's possible to guess at the denouement, you're never given enough to figure it all out yourself, you're only given enough to see how it all fits once the solution is presented. The plot is complicated by having a variety of players in addition to the main villain, including a cameo Professor Moriarty, and Holmes' great love and nemesis Irene Adler, smartly played by Rachel McAdams. Moriarty's goals are a lingering question until the end, and Irene Adler's motives and allegiances are intentionally and intriguingly ambiguous. The film nicely conveys the gritty feel of an industrial age late Victorian London, capturing the time and place. And director Guy Ritchie gives some tantalizing flashes of insight into Holmes' methods through "flash inwards", moments when the film jumps inside Holmes' head, and we see some past action that he has surmised from a clue, or we see some imminent action that he's anticipating. It's a creative cinematic technique that serves this film well. This was as much fun and almost as much action as a James Bond film. It leaves well-placed for a sequel if it does well, and that would be fine by me.

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