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Sherlock Holmes (2009): Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Would Roll Over In His Grave

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Is Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (2009) the Sherlock Holmes that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle imagined? I'd rather think it is not. Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) quarrel like two teenage boys over absolutely everything and anything, use language unbecoming their social status, and generally behave like two carjackers from LA injected into Victorian London.

This film feels like a Hollywood teenage rant spiced up with special effects, beautifully detailed vistas of period London, and the grime and dirt of the pre-asphalt and pre-automobile period. In other words, in every aspect except for the dialogue and behavior of the actors, it is trying to recreate the period in minute detail. Without the hyperactive catering to current audiences' taste for senseless action, the movie would be a beautiful opportunity to time-travel to the London of the period when Big Ben was new, the London bridge was under construction, and the city was inundated with street ladies and rabble from the countryside seeking a job in a factory.

Alas, this is not enough to carry the day for this film, as the totally fantastic and unrealistic behavior of both Holmes and Watson spoils the enjoyment of this period piece. From start to end, the movie is filled with moves that belong in ninja flicks, police buddy movies, and schlock action fantasies, but not in Victorian-era detective movies; and instead of cool logical deduction, we're treated to a series of three-second flashbacks that are supposed to explain all of Holmes' conclusions and insights. The totally idiotic and completely unnecessary fight scenes attempt to pay homage to movies that came much later than the Sherlock Holmes genre: the French-speaking giant is a stand-in for the indestructible vacuum-sucking giant in Moonraker, and Jackie Chan can smile in acknowledgment at the preplanned and choreographed take-out scene in the boxing match that Holmes (of course!) wins by a knockout.

The girl-hero motif so popular in current Hollywood also makes an appearance here. Apparently able to solve multidimensional calculus problems and synthesize proteins from amino acids with a hair pin, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) dodges bullets and smacks around men twice her size with ease. Come on! Give me a proper Victorian lady in distress, and not this hot to trot, trouser-wearing babe looking to score with the most suitable bachelor in London.

Bah! I like action films as much as the next person, but this is not it. As Lloyd Bentsen famously said "You, sir, are no Jack Kennedy," so I say to this Hollywood concoction, "You, sir, are no Sherlock Holmes."

About Joe118

  • Arun

    I liked the movie, as you said it’s movie for this generation, the movie is taken for the public who like action as shown in the movie and it is set in the past. I liked both of them Jude Law & Robert Downey Jr. both were excellent in the movie.

  • John Wilson

    Jeremy Brett owns the Holmes personna. It would be difficult for any mere Hollywood parvenu to replace him.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    I’ll agree, John, that Jeremy Brett’s is probably the best, and most faithful, screen Holmes to date. But I wouldn’t say he “owns” the character.

    Brett portrays Holmes as eccentric, irascible, rude and misogynistic, which is certainly the way he’s depicted in the stories, although nowhere near to the extent of Brett’s characterisation.

    But Brett’s Holmes also seems oblivious to the social conventions and niceties of the period, which Conan Doyle’s creation assuredly is not. The Holmes of the canon is able to blend into any social situation with ease – to the extent, on one occasion, of getting himself engaged to be married.

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    John, while I don’t disagree with your assessment of Brett (he is Holmes), Robert Downey Jr. is hardly a “mere Hollywood parvenu.” In fact, I think he is primarily what makes Ritchie’s film watchable.