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Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

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Playing like a big-budget episode of CSI: Victorian London, Guy Ritchie's latest imagining of Sherlock Holmes had a curious effect on me.

It made me interested to see a sequel.

The film itself ditches the normal “background story” tropes in favors of focusing on Holmes' relationship with Watson (curious), his pugilistic tendencies (curiouser), and his ability to deduce crimes from the slightest strands of evidence (curiousiest?). And while it is far from a definitive take on Doyle's enduring literary creation, there is more under its deerstalker than recreating Holmes as an action hero and it lays groundwork for what could be a rather interesting franchise in the right hands.

First, can we all just take a step back and be somewhat happy that younger audience members may want to delve into literature as a result of the film, seeking mysteries beyond what the gang of the Mystery Machine can solve? Granted, their short attention spans might sputter out by the fourth paragraph of The Strand. But it's a start, right?

Of Holmes' many passions, his love of bare-knuckle brawling and forensics take the lead in this adaptation. And while Ritchie's version (Holmes is the most filmed literary character) may play fast and loose with some of the detective's history, it is more accurate than not.

Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect left-field fit for the eccentric detective, for he approaches his roles in much the same way Holmes approaches his cases, which is far from the well-traveled path. It's also refreshing to see Jude Law in a subdued, nuanced performance that cashes in on the praise he first received earlier in his career.

The mystery itself is not as engaging. Involving black magic, remote-controlled bombs, and cliffhanger conclusions, Sherlock Holmes works far better in its more intimate moments than when it tries to muscle into summer escapist mode. Watching Holmes deduce entire backstories by mere cursory glances is all the rush needed. There is also little effort devoted to periphery relationships, such as those between Holmes, Watson, and Inspector Lestrade (played by accomplished British actor Eddie Marsan), Holmes and his duplicitous muse Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), and Watson with fiancée Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly).

Ritchie, though visually entertaining at times, is perhaps the wrong choice to helm this hero. Too often he falls back on dizzying edits and over-stylized bombast (though the boatyard bomb scene is quite effective). But its door is left wide open for a franchise, and with a bit more restraint (and perhaps a different director) and more insight into the unraveling mystery itself, viewers can rest comfortably in the Baker Street address of this cinematic home sweet Holmes.

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