Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

By Matthew Huntley

January 4, 2010

In the immortal words of Better Off Ted, don't fight it.

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I have a sneaking suspicion many moviegoers, particularly older ones, saw the trailer for Sherlock Holmes (2009) and said to themselves, that's not how I envisioned Sherlock Holmes! Where are his plaid coat, hat and magnifying glass? At least they gave him his pipe.

They would of course be referring to the classic Sherlock Holmes look first popularized by Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939). But that was probably the most romantic interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous London detective, and although I haven't read any of Doyle's novels or seen any other Holmes movies, Guy Ritchie's new version more than suffices and actually serves as a loyal adaptation of the source. And for the record, I don't believe the line, "Elementary, my dear Watson," was ever written by Doyle.

This is a surprisingly well made movie that will no doubt spawn a new Hollywood franchise. Whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen, but if the filmmakers devote as much energy and craft into future installments as they have this original, we're in for some grand adventures.

At its core, Sherlock Holmes wants to entice viewers with sheer energy, spectacle and spirit, and on that level, it delivers sensationally. But the plot is also fun to follow and Ritchie and star Robert Downey Jr. do a good job of making us feel like we're part of the action. They don't lampoon the detective genre but only mildly subvert it. Strangely enough, it's when they heed it that we're having the most fun.

The movie is not all that original, but it takes elements from the best of its kind and makes them fresh. Ritchie gives it the urgency and visual flare of the original Indiana Jones pictures; the wit and irreverent humor of The Thin Man series; and the action of, well, a typical Guy Ritchie movie, which is surprisingly appropriate for this material. Lucky for us, it's not the epileptic Ritchie action that tends to confuse us. Holmes is more coherent.


Downey Jr., proving once again he's one of Hollywood's most versatile and audacious actors (although his hero persona may soon typecast him), plays the titular Holmes, the brilliant and deductive sleuth whose only reason for living is to solve mysteries. It's what he lives for; otherwise, life is boring. Essentially, he's a macabre and danger junkie who will put himself in a martial arts match just for the thrills.

Fortunately for Holmes, his mortal enemy, the nefarious and occult Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), has supposedly risen from the dead after being hanged for the murder of five girls. Holmes, along with his roommate and trusted confidant, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), jump on the case, although Watson is more reluctant this time around since he's recently become engaged to Mary (Kelly Reilly). The only woman is Holmes' life is the one who left him, the devious Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who cares for him deep down but always lets her thievery get the better of her. Needless to say, Holmes, Watson and Adler all take part in the mission to find Blackwood before he kills members of British Parliament and takes over England, and then the world.

Even though the plot keeps us on our toes, it's the movie's atmosphere and action, and the charismatic characters, that make Sherlock Holmes such a pleasure. The sets and effects are spectacular (although it would have been nice if the Tower Bridge served a greater purpose than a mere location for the perfunctory climax); the sound design and Hanz Zimmer's score are distinct and memorable; and the actors, particularly Downey Jr. and Law, find the right balance of sobriety and frivolity when the scene calls for it.

Sherlock Holmes lacks the emotion of a great superhero tale, and as an adventure it doesn't have the magic and allure of, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it has an unmistakable charm. It's also highly energetic and enormously entertaining, and there's never a dull moment during its two-hour plus running time. For a big budget, Hollywood enterprise picture, Sherlock Holmes is a job well done, even if it's not quite what you originally imagined.



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