Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

I have long suspected that Sherlock Holmes is a scoundrel.

All I had to do was wait for Robert Downey, Jr. to come along and confirm my suspicions.

I have always wanted to believe that Holmes came by his knowledge through experience and experimentation rather than simply sitting in his study by the fire, wrapped in a smoking jacket, puffing on his pipe.

Downs’ Holmes is rumpled and frequently in desperate need of a shower and a shave.  His rooms are clearly losing the entropy battle, although I am sure that there should be no doubt that their inhabitant knows where everything is.  The dressing gown in which he shrouds himself is a thing of beauty – almost a character unto itself.  If I didn’t know better, I would swear that it is being held together by duct tape.

Jude Law, on the other hand, is quite forgettable as Watson.  A faithful and able sidekick to be sure, despite the smug, satisfied look glued onto his face, implying that he is actually the one who knows best, but it is the women who leave an indelible impression.  (Perhaps it is their more colorful wardrobe, while Watson is forever wearing the same brown suit.)  I believe that there is the suggestion of a limp in Law’s portrayal of the good doctor, but that may simply have been Law’s performance.

Lord Blackwood is a sinister enough villain, but it’s a little difficult to take seriously a man who insists on wearing a long black leather coat with wide lapels which makes him look like Count von Count from Sesame Street, a look accentuated by close cropped hair and protruding ears.  Not being able to take this particular nemesis seriously doesn’t much matter, however, because it’s the man lurking in the shadows who actually deserves your interest.

The ladies round out the cast, nicely filling in the gaping holes left by the supporting men, and not solely by virtue of their fabulous wardrobes.  Mary Reilly is brilliant in the minor role of Mary Morstan, Watson’s intended.  She and the great detective get off to a bit of a shaky start, but once she realizes that the reservoir of Holmes’ emotion is as deep as her own, she no longer sees him as competition for her fiance’s affection.

Not having read all of Holmes’ adventures myself, Irene Adler is a woman I know almost exclusively by reputation, and Rachel McAdams does justice to that reputation.  She is a delightful combination of ally and adversary.  It’s not hard to see why they find their weakness in one another.

The plot moves along nicely, with sub plots and bits of back story to keep things interesting without overcomplicating them, but it’s all preparation.  Consider Sherlock Holmes the setup for the main event.  The boys of Baker Street are introducing themselves to pique your curiosity and whet your appetite.  The next movie is where the real action is going to be, but it never hurts to have had a proper introduction.

There is some unconventional cinematography (perhaps meant to hearken back to a time when editing didn’t have the potential to be so seamless), and the soundtrack jangles to the point of being jarring.  There is even a bit of a Keystone Cops feel to some of the fight scenes, but ultimately the film sticks to the tried and true formula of any Holmes story: the seemingly fantastic and impossible have a completely logical -- often ordinary and sometimes intricate -- explanation.  All that needs to be done to solve the puzzle is for someone to be paying close attention to the facts rather than the distractions.  Very close attention.

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