Sherlock Holmes

Director    Guy Ritchie
Starring    Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan
Release    26 DEC (US) 26 DEC (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


4th January 2010

Sherlock Holmes is one of Britain's most enduring literary figures, thanks in no small part to previous adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's books on the big and small screens. Whilst it's not known whether anyone has actually read a Holmes book in the last few decades, everyone has a clear mental picture of the detective in question and can throw out a few misquotes when the situation calls for it.

Holmes is the template for countless TV detectives and geniuses, from Spock to Gregory House. That being said, in these times of remakes and reinventions, it is perhaps elementary that Holmes would get the do-over treatment. Excellent meaty murder mysteries, witty banter - he's already a household name, after all.

The problem is, Sherlock Holmes is not 'cool'; he's kind of cool because he's really clever, and a boxer, and funny and all that, but he's not explosions and slo-mo cool. Guy Ritchie doesn't agree. Visually, he's created a London that Doyle would be proud of; a great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. The external sets are exquisitely Victorian - it's grimy, grey, and there's horse crap everywhere. A bit like now.

[gallery]The film opens with Sherlock (Robert Downey Jr) capturing Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a mysterious snaggle-toothed baddie with a fondness for elaborate human sacrifice and secret societies. Three months later, during which time Holmes has had no new cases and is bored out of his massive mind, Blackwood is executed. Or is he? And what does Holmes old adversary Irene Adler have to do with it all? The plot really takes off from there.

Well, no. It doesn't. The whole thing is a set-up for Sherlock Holmes 2: Holmes Harder, a film that no doubt is already written, and the plot we 'enjoy' here is merely a collection of wild-goose chases and sub-par villainy designed to create anticipation of an arch-nemisis in the shape of Professor Moriarty. You know the end of Batman Begins, when Commissioner Gordon gives Batman the Joker card and then everyone wet their pants about The Dark Knight for three years? Yes, well so did Guy Ritchie.

The shame with Sherlock Holmes is that while the screenplay is awful, and the direction choppy and boring at best, the cast are uniformly great. Downey Jr's accent is near perfect, and this is yet another performance where we can all be grateful to the Gods of celebrity fuck-ups that he got himself on the straight-and-narrow again. His Holmes is a sulky, self-obsessed pain in the arse but you cannot help but admire him and wish he lived in your spare room and moped around your house in his slippers and pipe.

Law's Watson has a tiny moustache and a great big beard. Moving out of their bachelor pad on Baker Street to marry his Mary - and in the process, break poor Holmes' heart - Watson is little more than Holmes' hired (not very) heavy. Rachel McAdams could have been excellent as Irene Adler, the woman Holmes came closest to loving and the only person ever to outwit him, but the screenplay gives her nothing to do but get into scrapes that Holmes can rescue her from. This couldn't be further from the Adler from the source material.

On the whole, Sherlock Holmes is quite fun and mildly diverting, but in parts the direction is awful. Just awful. The rhythm of Ritchie's slow-slow-fast motion cuts, and repeated explosions from every angle just don't sit right in what should be a moderately-paced mind puzzle. He's superimposed a whodunit onto a gangster movie and, alas, it doesn't take a genius to see the fuzzy Photoshopped edges.

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