I have a love/hate relationship with Guy Ritchie. Loved Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels since it was released 11 years ago but have since felt he has never come close to following up that walloping debut. With his Sam Raimi idea of essentially remaking Lock, Stock with Snatch yet failing miserably in both the director’s chair and in the story department, who knew that it would take Hollywood calling to finally get him back at the top of his game with Sherlock Holmes?
Over the years I’ve taken a lot of flack for not liking Snatch and in my own defense I have tried numerous times to re-watch and try to see what all the fuss is about. I have yet to be won over aside from the squeaking dog and Brad Pitt’s indecipherable accent. Things really went awry upon his marriage to Madonna when he gave us the likes of Swept Away and Revolver. Not even another outing with British fave Jason Statham could get Ritchie back in his element.
While I found RocknRolla to be a step in the right direction (and coincidentally it came after his divorce from what seems to have been a personal black hole of thoughts) it ultimately was no better than the two preceding films. Many people probably thought he was in no way the right choice for an updating of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s all too famous detective, but thankfully, with the help of a fantastic cast, Ritchie has managed to roll out a fantastic reinvention of London’s greatest detective in one of this winter’s most fun films, Sherlock Holmes.
It’s another dreary day in London, 1891, and Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) has just caught up with black magic entrepreneur Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). In the midst of an attempted sacrifice, Holmes and trusty right-hand man Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) burst onto the scene and save the day much to Inspector Lestrade’s (Eddie Marsan) dismay. Lestrade makes a quick complaint that Holmes is always getting ahead of the police, which only further amuses Holmes, of course.
Three months later, Blackwood is sentenced to hang upon being convicted for committing five murders. While imprisoned, Blackwood’s last request is a visit with Holmes. Holmes agrees only to find that Blackwood has been keeping his idle hands busy in prison by continuing his occult-driven ways by marking up his cell with all kinds of symbols and inscriptions. Blackwood informs Holmes that not only will he cheat death but also three more related murders will occur from beyond his grave.
Also during all the proceedings Holmes is visited by an old friend, American Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), requesting his assistance in finding a “ginger-haired midget.” Holmes finds the midget in Blackwood’s own casket after a groundskeeper sees Blackwood rising from the grave and walking about the cemetery. Holmes comes to find that an elusive man in black named Moriarty sent Irene to Holmes. Watson, who announced Blackwood dead at the hanging himself, now needs to clear his own name while Holmes is on the case, sending him into the British government’s underbelly where the day must be saved before there’s panic in the streets of London from the reappearance of Blackwood.
Thus, the trio of Holmes, Watson, and Irene Adler begin many misadventures that may predate Indiana Jones but would certainly make him proud. While the plot mainly consists of them all getting into one close encounter after another, the cast brings their all to lend credibility to the outlandish action set pieces.
Huge kudos have to be given to the screenwriters as this normally could’ve been overly convoluted and yet another bad case of cobbled together rewrites. With three credited writers – sophomore Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham (Invictus), and Simon Kinberg (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) – this luckily is not another case of 'written by committee.' The story flows along nicely and I’m sure it helps to have such a great source material to pull from. Dating all the way back to Holmes's first appearance in 1887, I’m sure between all the original stories, television incarnations, and feature films there was lots to pick and pull from but with Downey, Jr. as the rascally detective things have been greatly updated even if not necessarily improved upon.
While there are many instances where Ritchie-isms shine through (an abundance of slow motion for instance), it’s put to full use in bringing out the brains behind the brawn that this version of Holmes happens to be. How does a man of Holmes’ stature bring a giant to his knees? A nicely rendered fight scene shows you in these instances of slo-mo before the fisticuffs ensue. Another interesting take is how it also manages to update itself by slipping in some hilariously unmistakable “bromance” elements.
While it may not be the greatest Holmes adventure ever told, it certainly takes the same liberties as this previous summer’s Star Trek and opens up a whole new world to expand upon. It’s also noticeable how some things from the trailer wound up on the cutting room floor. One can’t help but wonder if this was originally rated R and cut down to reach a broader audience. Thankfully, it’s for the better in this case. How do you update such an old character while staying true to its roots? Why, elementary, of course, dear readers. It’s all in the action and Sherlock Holmes delivers in spades.
Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures