Anthony's Film Review
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
This slight reinvention of the world's greatest detective manages to be entertaining enough...
In 2009, audiences were treated to yet another movie about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes. But it's a deviation from previous Holmes adaptations. From the trailers I saw, this Holmes story, directed by Guy Ritchie, looks more like an action movie than an intellectual mystery. That was my big concern before seeing the movie. I didn't have a problem with the principal cast of Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. John Watson, nor did I have any issue with the overall production design since Hollywood these days could afford any expensive production. But I was still wondering about the story.
Now that I've seen it, I can tell you this. The movie isn't entirely unfaithful to the characters and world that Conan Doyle created. It does portray Sherlock Holmes with the characteristics that he is known for. For instance, he pays incredible attention to details that nobody else takes notice, appears a bit socially awkward, does lab experiments at home, and is addicted to drugs. There is, however, one minor characteristic of Holmes that suddenly becomes a major one here: fighting skills. Occasionally, a Sherlock Holmes story puts him in dangerous situations, but for the most part, the Holmes stories are cerebral mysteries. Here, the movie portrays Holmes as a real fighter, as illustrated by a boxing scene, which, to a certain degree, still makes sense since Holmes had to get his skills from somewhere.
Overall, Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as Holmes is not bad. In fact, I think he's pretty good here. There's really only one complaint I have with the portrayal of Holmes, and it's that he seems overly eccentric. Yes, Holmes is supposed to be eccentric, but at times, he seems so eccentric that I often found myself questioning his mental state. Also, it gets to a point where his partner, Watson, seems like the more competent one. If you are familiar with Conan Doyle's stories, you will know that Watson does possess some skill in deduction, but Holmes always remains the master. This is why seeing Holmes in this movie was a bit difficult at times.
As for the plot, it's not based on any story written by Conan Doyle, but it still involves a case worthy of Holmes's skills. A criminal named Lord Blackwell (Mark Strong) has been executed by hanging but is soon spotted alive and well at the graveyard where he's buried. It's a pretty intriguing mystery, especially as authorities are tempted to believe in superstition (a lot like the premise of the Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles). Also, a woman named Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) comes to Holmes with a request: look for a missing man.
The other big complaint I have with this movie, besides the one I mentioned above, is the pacing of the story. Instead of a smooth fast-paced ride, it's a bumpy one. The movie alternates between scenes that feel like the story is definitely moving along, as when Holmes analyzes new clues, and scenes that feel like a waste of time, as when Holmes and Watson have almost pointless banter. Also, the case is not presented to Holmes until about thirty minutes into the movie. To me, that's a bit too much time for an introduction.
Now, what about the action scenes? Well, I have to admit. I enjoyed them. Again, it has to do with the fact that Holmes, as I understand it from Conan Doyle's stories, can defend himself if he needs to. It's not like the movie turns Holmes into something he never was. Rather, the movie emphasizes a minor trait. Also, the action is not overdone. There are about four action sequences in the movie, which is certainly not too many. The climax is exciting enough, in both a James Bond way (with the frantic action to stop a deadly plot) and a Sherlock Holmes way (with the character verbally summing up all remaining details into one clear picture).
This movie is not the best I've ever seen, but it's something. I wouldn't mind recommending it as something to watch if there's nothing else available. Believe it or not, I liked it enough to want to see the sequel. Yes, the movie ends in a way that clearly suggests a follow-up is coming, and it's going to involve Holmes facing a villain who will no doubt be an arch nemesis. If you are familiar with all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, you'll know which character it is. Otherwise, I'm eager to see the sequel just for Robert Downey Jr.'s performance. He manages to be the world's greatest detective in both a traditional way and a newer way without losing my interest.
For more information about Sherlock Holmes, visit the Internet Movie Database.
In addition, check out my review of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.