Everyone’s been making a fuss about the new Sherlock Holmes movie from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels English crime filmmaker Guy Ritchie and how it’s suposed to be a different animal from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle detective stories that are ingrained in pop culture. Many have worried it would be all flash and dazzle, a fear that wouldn’t be totally unjustified considering the quick-cut editing and matter-of-factness dialogue that Ritchie’s filmography has been host to.
But now that it’s out, it turns out we have nothing to worry about.
Well, almost nothing.
The Sherlock Holmes we’ve come to know is the one with that ridiculous deerstalker hat, perpetually staring through a magnifying glass and walking alongside an amusingly obese Watson. While it’s always more entertaining to see a jolly fat man in the movies than the new Holmes‘ version, the slim but adept (and to be fair, pretty strong in his own right) Watson, played by Jude Law, is just one example that proves the changes made in Ritchie’s Holmes work pretty well.
But it’s not all shoot-’em-ups and drug runs like you’d expect from Ritchie. It’s also not a Robert Downey, Jr. romp of charisma and smartassery (I have to admit, I was worried Downey would be reprising his super-likable characters from Iron Man and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in this titular role.) Instead it is, quite genuinely, an old-school mystery movie.
It’s apparent from the get go that Ritchie’s not interested in giving us a straight-up entertainment ride – instead he creates a grimy 19th Century London, with filthy brown rooms shown through dirty cinematography, almost with the vibe of an early 70s New Hollywood film. It’s a great breath of fresh air from every other tent pole released today, from the good (Avatar) to the thoroughly crappy (Transformers 2). It’s not that movies shouldn’t look pristine, but it’s great to change it up and see Holmes in a dirty, utilitarian style that feels real (and, as a guy that got nauseous during The Hurt Locker, it’s great to see Ritchie do it without having to rely on steadicam.)
Unfortunately, the adaptation’s authentic feel derails in the third act. It is nothing terribly over the top, but he does employ multiple slow-motion takes of a single explosion. And the climax takes place on the not-so-subtle set piece of an under-construction Tower Bridge. I might let these minor infractions by if they were more exciting, but as far as being an action movie, Holmes is fairly by the numbers.
It works much better as a mystery. To retell the plot would be challenging – it’s a series of events that are hard to understand as a whole, until Sherlock comes in at the end and makes sense of every small detail. Maybe I was just in a very stupid mood when I saw the film, but I couldn’t see an explanation coming the entire time, even though I was looking for all of the typical tip-offs that litter today’s movies.
The cast is strong as well. Downey avoids looking like the friendly and playful magical douche that he comes off as in the fairly awful posters. He’s still got that Tony Stark charisma; but his primary motive is to solve the case, and charming anyone seems a distant second interest. Law, too, makes a great case for Watson being an educated man of science instead of fatty comic relief.
Both of the actors bring a great utilitarian feel to the characters, a feel that hits for the movie as a whole.
Don’t walk into Sherlock Holmes expecting a stuffy period piece or an action movie (well, for the most part). It’s a movie about two guys who know their stuff, and can’t stop until they figure out the mystery.