Movie review: Sherlock Holmes

The casting choice of Robert Downey Jr. as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved book hero might have had more to do with the actor’s late-career rebirth than to any perceived similarities to the fictional detective, but it’s Downey that anchors “Sherlock Holmes” thanks to another bravura performance.

Every time the film threatens to drift away, it’s Downey that pulls us back in with his fierce effort – be it with something as small as a facial expression or a perfectly executed know-it-all monologue in a clipped British accent.

As for the rest of the movie, director Guy Ritchie has essentially made Holmes and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) into the original buddy-cop pairing, as they spend most of the movie bickering, making little in-jokes and overcoming their different methods to solve a difficult case.

Normally, these kind of tentpole action films – especially when re-introducing an iconic character – often serve as origin stories, but Ritchie drops us right into the middle of the action. Holmes and Watson are an already established crime-fighting duo, and we are given no back story as to how and why this came to pass.

Downey plays Holmes as a sort of crime fighting idiot savant, frenetically jumping from one concept to the next; his mind a scattershot of ideas, moves and strategies, which Ritchie sometimes allows us to see as Holmes determines how he is going to win a fist-fight, etc.

It’s those methods that serve him well as he and Watson take down the nefarious Lord Blackwell (Mark Strong), a ne’er-do-well whose mystical talk runs counter to Holmes’ beliefs yet seems to manifest itself as truth when he returns from the dead to put London in a state of fear.

It’s up to Holmes to figure out how Blackwell has come from beyond the grave and figure out what he plans to do. This is where things get a little murky, involving a midget scientist, secret societies, black magic, corrupt cops, etc.

This is also where the film introduces it’s weakest link – Rachel McAdams’ grifter character Irene Adler. McAdams is a gifted actress, but she is an unnecessary addition to the plot, simply needed to provide a putative love interest for Holmes (although she looks as if she’s young enough to be Downey’s daughter) and to help introduce a character that presumably won’t come into play until the sequel.

By introducing Adler, Ritchie is then forced to cross into standard damsel-in-distress territory, no matter how much the movie tries to show us that she is a strong, heady woman. It’s the kind of cliché that didn’t need to happen considering what we’ve been told about Holmes.

Make no mistake, however, this is the Downey show. Law does his best to keep pace, but he does a good job of playing second banana in a role that accommodates his strengths. I like Strong a lot (I especially enjoyed his work in Ritchie’s “RocknRolla,”) but he doesn’t get much to do besides look on menacingly.

Normally, I also don’t comment much on scores, but Hans Zimmer’s work felt so obtrusive throughout that I had to take note of it. Zimmer generally does great work, but this will not go down as one of his masterpieces.

I liked “Sherlock Holmes,” but didn’t love it. That said, I do want to see the inevitable sequel with the hope that things get tightened up a bit.

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~ by Elliott on January 5, 2010.

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