Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

by Ian McFarland on December 25, 2009

in Print Reviews

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.

PHxZKEzBOVQbCy_1_mThe 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.

OneSheet (Page 1)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.

Ian McFarland

Ian T. McFarland reviews movies and music for Scene-Stealers, Dadsbigplan, LostinReviews, and has been called the “stud of his generation” (by somebody somewhere, surely).

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sherlock Holmes Movie December 25, 2009 at 11:12 pm

my favorite Guy Ritchie movie. Perfect story and cast members. Good job.

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2 Sherlock Holmes Movie December 25, 2009 at 11:12 pm

my favorite Guy Ritchie movie. Perfect story and cast members. Good job.

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3 erick December 28, 2009 at 1:16 pm

why havent you reviewed Avatar??? Thats like the one movie out there everyones talking about.

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4 erick December 28, 2009 at 1:16 pm

why havent you reviewed Avatar??? Thats like the one movie out there everyones talking about.

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5 Eric Melin December 28, 2009 at 2:29 pm

missed the screening when I was opening for KISS…I’ll post something soon.

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6 Eric Melin December 28, 2009 at 2:29 pm

missed the screening when I was opening for KISS…I’ll post something soon.

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7 J. December 29, 2009 at 7:19 pm

I don’t know why anyone would have expected this to be a straight-ahead action movie, unless they were reading far too much into the previews and trailers. Of -course- this “reads better as a mystery,” the frigging thing is about and called “Sherlock Holmes”. The first characterization they give is, granted, a violent assault with bare hands, but it’s telegraphed well in advance, not just for the sake of Ritchie-style speed-up/slow-down camera tricks, but to introduce an insufferable character whose mind is literally 8-10 moves ahead of everyone else’s.

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8 J. December 29, 2009 at 7:19 pm

I don’t know why anyone would have expected this to be a straight-ahead action movie, unless they were reading far too much into the previews and trailers. Of -course- this “reads better as a mystery,” the frigging thing is about and called “Sherlock Holmes”. The first characterization they give is, granted, a violent assault with bare hands, but it’s telegraphed well in advance, not just for the sake of Ritchie-style speed-up/slow-down camera tricks, but to introduce an insufferable character whose mind is literally 8-10 moves ahead of everyone else’s.

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9 cleavy December 29, 2009 at 7:36 pm

“Downey avoids looking like the friendly and playful magical douche that he comes off as in the fairly awful posters.”

Hahahahaha! For some reason, this really made me laugh. Well, I know the reason – I’ve never heard/read anyone put together the phrase, “friendly and playful magical douche”. Thanks!

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10 cleavy December 29, 2009 at 7:36 pm

“Downey avoids looking like the friendly and playful magical douche that he comes off as in the fairly awful posters.”

Hahahahaha! For some reason, this really made me laugh. Well, I know the reason – I’ve never heard/read anyone put together the phrase, “friendly and playful magical douche”. Thanks!

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11 Ian McFarland December 30, 2009 at 10:10 pm

J -

I’d like to agree with you. But I’d like to tell you a story about a very naive time called 2006 – Steven Spielberg had just signed on to produce a movie that, as he put it, was about a boy and his first car. That movie went on to be ‘Transformers.’

Of course ‘Sherlock Holmes’ ought to be mystery before an action piece. but you can never trust too little in the system that is Hollywood. But I agree with you that the bare handed violent assault introduction works both ways.

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12 Ian McFarland December 30, 2009 at 10:10 pm

J -

I’d like to agree with you. But I’d like to tell you a story about a very naive time called 2006 – Steven Spielberg had just signed on to produce a movie that, as he put it, was about a boy and his first car. That movie went on to be ‘Transformers.’

Of course ‘Sherlock Holmes’ ought to be mystery before an action piece. but you can never trust too little in the system that is Hollywood. But I agree with you that the bare handed violent assault introduction works both ways.

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13 J. December 31, 2009 at 9:07 am

If you honestly went into Sherlock Holmes with a Transformers mindset … yeah, I don’t know what to say about that.

Guy Ritchie is not a bad director, at least not when he’s getting whipped by Madonna, but Michael Bay is pretty much universally regarded as a hack who needs a very tight leash. If this was Michael Bay directing Sherlock Holmes as produced by Joel Silver, who is not known for providing a tight leash, you might have not-naively expected this to be a shit movie.

I had no such expectations, derived from naivete of three years ago. Actually, I think I saw the same movie as the reviewer, and enjoyed it the same. I might have just given it a higher rock-fist rating, and I think he would have, too, had he not apparently been thinking about giant robots while watching a movie set in 19th-century London.

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14 J. December 31, 2009 at 9:07 am

If you honestly went into Sherlock Holmes with a Transformers mindset … yeah, I don’t know what to say about that.

Guy Ritchie is not a bad director, at least not when he’s getting whipped by Madonna, but Michael Bay is pretty much universally regarded as a hack who needs a very tight leash. If this was Michael Bay directing Sherlock Holmes as produced by Joel Silver, who is not known for providing a tight leash, you might have not-naively expected this to be a shit movie.

I had no such expectations, derived from naivete of three years ago. Actually, I think I saw the same movie as the reviewer, and enjoyed it the same. I might have just given it a higher rock-fist rating, and I think he would have, too, had he not apparently been thinking about giant robots while watching a movie set in 19th-century London.

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15 Ian McFarland January 4, 2010 at 3:07 pm

It sounds like we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this minor issue, J., but I think we can b oth agree on this – Giant Robots in 19th-century London would pretty awesome.

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16 Ian McFarland January 4, 2010 at 3:07 pm

It sounds like we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this minor issue, J., but I think we can b oth agree on this – Giant Robots in 19th-century London would pretty awesome.

Reply

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