The International Writers Magazine: Review
Sherlock Holmes - Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Robert Downey Jnr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams
Richard Crawley review
Robert Downey Jr. is simply a revelation.
I approached the cinema thinking it blasphemy that a relatively short American could bring corporeal form to one of England's finest fictional men, but the man absolutely nails it, bringing a warmth, humour and salt-of-the-earth sophistication to the character that may one day see his performance challenge Basil Rathbone's for the mantle of greatest ever. This Holmes is funny, though never a caricature; eccentric, though never lunatic; witty, though deceptively wise.
Jude Law, once considered by many as the most punchable man in British cinema, pulls the rabbit out of the hat with a performance that approaches and, following a second viewing, I would suggest even exceeds, the brilliant, bumbling calamity Nigel Bruce brought to the role. Law's Dr Watson, a hardened veteran of the Afghanistan campaign whose gambling problems hinted at in later Holmes lore are fleshed out here more prominently, is much more than the Hardy to Holmes' Laurel, much more than the Robin to his Batman.
He is his best friend, perhaps his only friend. A friend who, despite all the minor squabbles that lie at the heart of the very closest friendships, can be relied on no matter the peril, no matter the odds. The relationship between the two is the pulsing heart that drives the film forward and, quite possibly, the most affecting and authentic love story of 2009.
Rachel McAdams is certainly little more than window dressing, but when windows look as good as Miss McAdams does, all doe-eyed mischief and butter-wouldn't-melt dimples, you can expect no complaint from my quarter. Irene Adler, having only featured in one Holmes story [to be consequently mentioned in four more], is open for interpretation in a way that other characters are not and both Ritchie and his actress do a good, if not great job of weaving her into a screenplay lovingly immersed in a spooky, lantern lit London where ominous occult forces are rising to threaten the British Empire itself.
As with all origin stories, Sherlock Holmes evidences its fair share of growing pains. Much in the same way that Batman Begins was derided by many as supposedly being too much of a compromise between the fan-boys and general popcorn munchers, similar accusations have been levelled at Ritchie here. Such charges are quite frivolous though, and those that have criticised Ritchie's supposed taking of liberties with the Conan-Doyle canon are, I would suggest, themselves stubbornly ignorant of the literature they seek so righteously to defend.
In the same way that anyone re-reading Ken Kesey's ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest’ after a viewing of the film will undoubtedly see Jack Nicholson's wolfish grin in their minds eye, the same is true of Robert Downey Jr. here. It is not quite a definitive performance - that will come later- but Guy Ritchie has captured enough of the soul of the books to satisfy even the most stubbornly pernicious Holmes fan.
Yes, there may be one too many fight scenes. Yes, there may be the occasional plot-hole that is never properly plumbed. Yes, the film's finale atop a still under-construction London Bridge feels oddly stiff and choreographed... but these flaws are small beans in comparison to the wonderfully funny, intelligent and yes, faithful adaptation of the world's only unofficial consulting detective.
As to the question of an impending sequel? Well, with a little over $350,000,000 in box office receipts banked at the time of writing- no mean feat with the James Cameron's big blue behemoth currently packing out cinemas worldwide- the answer to that question would have to be, if you would pardon the pun, somewhat elementary.
Roll on Moriarty, roll on.
© Richard Crawley Feb 2010
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