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Movies > Reviews > Sherlock Holmes (2009)
A Sgt Pembry Review..........................................Tuesday, January 19, 2010

He's definitely performed better than the last A-list American actor to portray a genuine British literary or mythological legend, but there is still a question mark over Robert Downey Jnr's Sherlock Holmes.

Don't get me wrong, I love the guy, and love him in most things he's done. Maybe not that 'thing' in the toilet a few years back, but throughout an at times turbulent 25-year career, his acting has remained at a very high standard. He always brings so much 'character' to his characters.


And it continues with Guy Ritchie's highly enjoyable, entertainingly light-hearted, if not totally amazing take on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creation. There was a Golden Globe Best Actor Award this week to show for it after all.

However, while I except it may have just been me, I do have one small gripe, and that is I honestly needed sub-titles at times throughout the film when the brilliant detective was speaking. Just a few moments when I needed to do a bit of my own deducting to work out exactly what he was on about.

You could give Downey Jnr, and director Ritchie for that matter, the benefit of the doubt, and look at it another way - that's Sherlock Holmes in this Sherlock Holmes, an eccentric, a quick thinker and a quick talker to boot, to the point of becoming a mumbler.

You can usually look past slightly dodgy accents. Sam Worthington's in Terminator Salvation (2009) and Avatar (2009) weren't exactly 100 percent American either. But, it does become a bit of a problem when you can't actually understand an entire conversion.

But, at least Downey Jnr had a go at becoming 'really' British and that's more than I can say about Kevin Costner who turned Robin Hood into a posh-sounding Yanky swashbuckler in Prince of Thieves (1991).

And, despite that slight speech flaw - and I reiterate, it was only at certain times - the 44-year-old has certainly re-affirmed his status of being well and truly back as a cinematic force.

Just his sheer presence, his undoubted charisma and his comedic abilities made him ideal for Tony Stark aka Ironman, and (almost) perfect for Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, and ultimately (almost) perfect to be bringing the most famous sleuth of the 19th century into the 21st. A bit more clearer with his lines and he'll be there.

Sherlock Holmes, the movie, was by no means a cinematic force itself, it's short of being great, and hardly matches the likes of Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and maybe even Snatch (2000) and RochnRolla (2008), but really gets the job done as an exciting Sherlock Holmes movie, and in particular a Sherlock Holmes movie to kick-off a Sherlock Holmes series.

The twists and turns are more out of the Sherlock Holmes textbook - and maybe that of Scooby Doo - than Ritchie's trademark intertwining storylines, with the detective recalling his adversary's moves and where he went wrong in his fiendish plot.

But, the real kicker for me was an ending that sets up a sequel perfectly - in fashion very similar to Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005). But more on that later.

Back to Downey's Holmes, who we first see as an alraady well-established and well-known detective in London in 1891, used by both Scotland Yard and the general public, and with the help of his long-time companion, Dr John Watson (Jude Law) captures the devilish Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a practitioner of the black arts.

It is to be Holmes and Watson's last case together with the latter preparing to move out of 221B Baker Street to start his own business and marry Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly).

Holmes has other plans such as drinking, taking cocaine, yes, taking cocaine as it wasn't illegal at the time, and competing in bare-knuckle fighting - and winning I might add with his amazing ability to construct and then execute a plan successfully. He's also pretty handy at the martial art Wing Chun.

This is certainly a different Sherlock Holmes to what people have been accustomed to. But, it is said to be a lot closer to the mark of Doyle's original crime-fighter from 1896. He was a skilled amateur boxer, and did inject cocaine - apparently as a way to stimulate his mind while he's not on a case.

In Doyle's stories, Watson, who narrates most of them, describes Holmes as "bohemian" in habits and lifestyle, an eccentric, with no regard for contemporary standards of tidiness or good order.

Watson himself is also closer to Doyle's vision of a revered former army surgeon and experienced in combat - he's good with a sword - not the more 'rounded' version, or 'fat bumbling old man' as what some have described Nigel Bruce's Holmes from the popular 1930s films.

Law, whose diologue I can understand fully, does a great job of the loyal sidekick who is dragged into one scrap after another when he is trying to break free of Holmes' shackles. There is some great banter between the two leads, and some almost sexual innuendo about their particular relationship. Holmes, you see, just doesn't want to let go. There is a soft side to a hard exterior.

At one point, Holmes says "You've never complained about my methods before", to which Watson replies, "I've never complained! When have I ever complained about you practicing the violin at three in the morning, or your mess, your general lack of hygiene, your experiments on my dog, or the fact that you steal my clothes?"

They are an odd couple, but by god they work. They are brought back together from the brink after Lord Blackwood has apparently risen from the grave after he was hung and declared dead by Watson.

The Satanist continues to resurface, and when he does prominent bodies, such as those who lead secret society The Temple of the Four Orders, start turning up dead and in seemingly supernatural ways. It is all part of Blackwood's diabolical plot to not only take over merry old England, but also reclaim the United States following its Civil War.

Of course it's up to Holmes and Watson to investigate whether what they are dealing with is really evil forces they might not be able to control or a more logical enemy they can outwit, outsmart and outplay. It's not so much a 'Who dunnit?' but a 'How'd they do it?'

The fun and games take place in a very believable Victorian London, with great sets intertwined with some great CGI visuals that really add to the moody atmosphere, especially during a tense finale when Holmes and Blackwood duel on top of a partially-constructed London Bridge, overlooking a partially-constructed city.

Ritchie, who's provided us with a real stylish picture, does well to also highlight Holmes' intellect - his most famous quality, in particular his powers of observation and deduction - with his ability with his fists ... and elbows, and in one early scene combines both at the same time.

It happens while he is taking on a brute in the ring during a bare-knuckle fight and appears to be beaten ... until he envisions his step-by-step strategy for defeating his opponent, who has just spat on him, all in slow-motion.

"First, distract target," we hear him think, before he throws a handkerchief into his rivals' face. "Then block his blind jab. Counter with cross to left cheek. Discombobulate." Holmes does this by slamming his hands into both sides of his opponent's head.

He continues, "Dazed, he'll attempt wild haymaker. Weaken right jaw." Holmes deflects his opponent's attempted punch and cracks him in the head with his elbow. "Then fracture.” Holmes lands another punch on his jaw. “Break cracked ribs.” Holmes slams a fist into the ribs. “Heel kick to diaphragm." Holmes finally kicks his opponent through the doors of the ring.

He then adds, "Summary: ears ringing, jaw fractured, three ribs cracked, four broken, diaphragm hemorrhaging. Physical recovery six weeks. Full psychological recovery six months. Ability to spit at back of head neutralized."

We then see the actions again, only this time in real time, for real, and suffice to say, Holmes wins the bout - and collects a tidy little reward after betting on himself. Like I said, this is a different Sherlock Holmes but there is certainly no less in the brains department.

This terrific moment epitomises the film with enough going on to keep both sets of audience happy - those wanting to see punches thrown, guns being fired and shit getting blown up, and those who might want something a bit more creative and witty, something intellectual.

The story itself is lacking just a little more oomph though, that extra bit of wow factor, and that might come with an added emphasis on a better villain.

Strong is a brilliant actor and now popping up everywhere, including Nottingham in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (2010) with Russell Crowe, but as Lord Blackwood he was a tad underused in Sherlock Holmes, the movie. He certainly won't be in any sequel, but the end of the film gave a tantilizing insight in to who might be.

Like in Batman Begins when a Joker card is presented to the Caped Crusader, setting up The Dark Knight (2008), it is revealed Holmes' long-time nemesis Professor Moriarty has been lurking in the background of the events that had just taken place in Sherlock Holmes the movie.

We learn he is the one who sent Holmes' ex-flame and constant thorn Irene Adler (played by a very so-so Rachel McAdams) to cause a distraction, and it seemingly worked, Moriarty taking off with some valuable technology once the property of Blackwood.

Word has it pre-production for Sherlock Holmes 2 begins in March, and the strong rumour has Brad Pitt being lined up to play the devious Moriarty. He was after all believed to be responsible for his voice this first outing.

Pitt goes alright with the foreign accents, though his Gypsy in Snatch was a little hard to understand. Then again, it might've just been me.

The deductions aren't quite as good as my tax accountant's, but there's no great mystery as to why this has succeeded. It's elementary.

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