Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sherlock Holmes

The re-imagined Sherlock Holmes is unquestionably a different take on this 120-year-old character and an excellent introduction to a new audience. Robert Downey Jr. portraying the title character shows us a side of Arthur Conan Doyle's character that most people are unaware of. Fans of the novels will find this action-adventure story, laced with all the crime and mystery that we come to expect from a Sherlock Holmes story, fun and interesting. Also, not expected, but clearly lacking in the original stories, is a comedic rapport between Holmes and his faithful sidekick Dr. John Watson (Jude Law). The characterizations are novel, the story is original, the writers, adapting various characters like Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), from the Doyle's novels, and like the writers of the Rathbone and Bruce movies of the 1940s, mixing in new material and plot lines to tell a mystery adventure tale, that I am sure Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would admire.

We find our heroes stopping a ritualistic cult murder of a woman only to find that the culprit is a member of the British House of Lords, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), who is later hanged for four previous murders. Irene Adler (originally featured in an early Holmes story - "A Scandal in Bohemia"  - 1891), visits Holmes as he recounts for us a quick history of her character and their relationship together. She hires Holmes to look for a character by the name of Reordan or as Holmes and Watson refer to him as the "Ginger Midget." In the meantime, Blackwood just prior to his execution requests an audience with Holmes and giving him a warning of the supernatural events to follow, is subsequently hung and pronounced dead by Dr. Watson. The movie moves fast as Holmes and Watson follow the leads with plenty of action and quick action cuts moving the story along swiftly. The movie only slows down every so often to develop Law’s character, very unlike the Watson of past incarnations. Law is handsome, smart and a wicked shot with a pistol. Watson’s character is unable to commit to a relationship with his girlfriend, Mary (Kelly Reilly) another character written about by Doyle but never mentioned in any screen adaptions, or if so, only in passing. Unlike older versions of the Sherlock Holmes films, we see a dirty, gritty, and filthy London. Ritchie uses CGI to recreate the iconic skyline of Victorian London to frame his movie, hoping to make this period piece come alive. Setting the time and context of Holmes's London is the Tower Bridge, still a couple of years from completion, looking unreal and distracting. Using muted blue tones to bring about the dreariness that one associates with London, Ritchie also gives the audience the notion that they are viewing into the past. A fan of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid "buddy film, Guy Ritchie follows the formula pretty well, even ending the film with sepia tone, penny-arcade style end titles.

Drawing on Doyle's fascination with the occult, director Guy Richie and producer Joel Silver gave the writers ample latitude to develop a story that would intrigue a twenty-first century audience. In my mind, a re-imaging of a character or a theme requires the writers to delve deep into the original source material and take from the original, an essence that previous incarnations fail to evoke. In most retellings (not all) of Sherlock Holmes, his manic depression and drug addiction are entirely ignored. Dr. Watson is usually portrayed as a buffoon rather than the intelligent infantry surgeon that Doyle based his original character. Guy Ritchie's version does just that, brings us a Sherlock Holmes that is human in character, with a genius matched only by his own failings. Robert Downey Jr., the only American actor, creates a character in our mind that mirrors his own career, brings a certain masculinity to the character that none of his predecessors was able to capture. Gone are the deerstalker hat and cloak that most people are familiar with, gone too is the line, "elementary, my dear Watson," and other Holmesian nonsense. Instead, creating a real world Sherlock Holmes set in a realistic London, Hans Zimmer ("Gladiator,
 "Pirates of the Caribbean"
 series), brings us a background layer of music that fits the time and place, and brings a depth of realism, offsetting the CGI London skyline. Nothing orchestral in the score, Zimmer features the violin (Holmes's instrument of choice) or fiddle in creating an atmosphere that depicts the bawdy streets of London.

I grew up reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series when I was a kid. However, my first introduction to Doyle’s works was his science fiction novel "The Lost World." Around the same time, on rainy Saturday afternoons, having to stay inside, I watched Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce portraying Holmes and his faithful sidekick Watson. In reading the books and watching the movies, I noticed many discrepancies that were not easily reconciled. Times have changed and society in many ways has come full circle, and social norms are less strict. Guy Ritchie’s version of Sherlock Holmes gives us a bohemian Holmes who represents a character set firmly in Victorian England, but accessible by a twenty-first century audience. The best part of this film is that Ritchie leaves room for sequels that may or may not feature Holmes arch-nemesis Professor James Moriarity. Hopefully, this film will encourage a new generation of Sherlock Holmes fans to pick up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels and short stories and discover Holmes and Watson for themselves

Movie Data

Genre:  Action, Adventure, Crime, Mystery, Thriller, Comedy
Year:  2009
Staring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams
Director:  Guy Ritchie
Producer(s)  Joel Silver, Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Lionel Wigram
Writer(s): Lionel Wigram, Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: 12/25/2009

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