Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the beloved Sherlock Holmes brings about an exciting perspective on what I assumed was only a droll, meticulous British detective. Then again, all I know of the character is what I can remember from watching PBS’s Wishbone as a child.
Following the capture of the black magic practitioner to blame for a string of murders, Holmes and his trusted companion, Dr. John Watson, find themselves disbanding the team as Watson sets out to move in with his soon to be fiancé. However, this is put on hold when they are informed that the recently hanged murderer, Lord Blackwood, is not as stiff in the grave as a buried man ought to be. Curious to the magic that seems to be afoot, Holmes again takes up the case to stop whatever Blackwood has planned.
Being the sleuth that he is, it’s easy to assume that Sherlock Holmes would be nothing more than a slow paced exploration of the man’s methods to solving a mystery, but there is far more action than one might expect. Instead of just giving a squinty-eyed look around a room until the “Oh look! A clue!” moment, Holmes is quite the man of action in the sense that he can take a punch as well as he can give one, and Ritchie is the perfect director to bring out this side of the character.
However, for all the beauty that this film shows in its sets, costumes, special effects, etc., it still remains character driven, thanks in large part to the cast. Robert Downey Jr. embodies the character of Holmes in a refreshing and quirky way, full of idiosyncrasies that one might expect from a man who observes the world as he does. Though it might not be perfectly clear why he does the things he does, Downey makes these actions, like licking a rock, perfectly normal because they seem like something Holmes would do. In a way, this creates a comparison to the attention Johnny Depp received for his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow because of both actors’ abilities to bring a character to life in a way that is quirky and weird, yet perfect. Then again, maybe my connection was egged on by the fact that Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack (which was brilliant) accompanies both characters’ escapades… but I digress.
Speaking of Downey’s portrayal of Holmes’ methods, the film takes his detective work a step further in how it shows his mind at work. For example, in the first few minutes of the film Holmes has to take out a guard, taking a step-by-step observation of the man’s weaknesses. By filming this in slow motion, the audience is allowed a glimpse at his brilliance and process in which he takes what he observes, predicts the outcomes of the best attack to these observations, and then sets the plan into motion a second time on screen as it actually unfolds. This effective method creates a feeling of being more involved and not just the observer without a clue of why he does what he does.
Jumping back to the characters, the cast of characters is rounded out by Jude Law’s Watson, Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler, Mark Strong’s Lord Blackwood, and a large amount of supporting roles that deserve as much applause as the names on the posters. With that said, it’s clear why these actors are the headliners. For one thing, special note should be taken of Law’s portrayal of Watson, one that could have easily been outshone by Downey. Instead, Law is able to hold his own, acting as the perfect counterpart to Holmes with his ability to keep him grounded. Though this film is more about this famous coupling, the one thing that I have to complain about is Rachel McAdams’ role as Adler. Being the skilled actress that she is, it would have been nice to give McAdams more to do instead of just popping in and out of the film when a distraction to Holmes is needed. Sure, it is made evident that Adler can hold her own on many accounts, but I feel like there is far more to her character that still needs to be explored.
With the main story being wrapped up nicely in the end, including flashbacks putting two and two together in order to explain some questions left by the story, there are a few open ends to set up a much deserved sequel to Sherlock Holmes.
Final Grade: A