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Sherlock Holmes kicks butt
Sherlock Holmes (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
Sherlock Holmes (DVD)
Advantages: Entertaining from start to finish, great performances
Disadvantages: It's not the Holmes we know
Sherlock Holmes, a character created by Arthur Conan Doyle in the late nineteenth century, is regarded as a British institution. News that director Guy Ritchie had chosen an American actor, Robert Downey Junior, to play Holmes, did not go down well in some circles. And since the film has been released, there have been some complaints that his accent is just not right. Much as I love Robert Downey Junior as an actor, I was unsure about his casting - I am a big fan of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, and he will always be the quintessential Holmes as far as I am concerned. Nevertheless, I tried to go into the film with as open a mind as possible. And, although his Holmes is very different from the Holmes that I know, I think Robert Downey Junior did a brilliant job in the role.
This Sherlock Holmes is as eccentric as he should be, with a large dose of charm thrown in for good measure. In some ways, he is too good-looking and perhaps not as austere as I always imagine Holmes to look, but the quick-talking and the wonderful relationship he has with Watson make him a real pleasure to watch and listen to. He is not just the thinking man that we have come to expect, but is also a bare knuckle fighter and is more than eager to plunge into the thick of the action when needed (apparently more like the Holmes of the original books). Robert Downey Junior has injected new life into Holmes and, although he is not a close representation of Conan Doyle's character, he is so entertaining that I really didn't mind in the slightest. As for the accent, I thought it was good. There were times when he mumbled, and he certainly had an 'affected' accent, but he sounded completely British to me.
Jude Law as Watson was also a pleasant surprise. I've always found him very touch and go in the past - he can act well, but he can also be incredibly bland. Here, he is the perfect partner to Holmes. For once, Watson is not portrayed as a bumbling incompetent sidekick to Holmes, but is a clever, intelligent man who often saves Holmes from his various scrapes - actually closely to Conan Doyle's vision than many Watsons of the past. This makes sense to me - he is a doctor after all - so being portrayed as a twit isn't really very realistic. Jude Law's Watson is actually the sensible one of the pair and does his best to keep Holmes on the straight and narrow - although he frequently fails miserably. I loved the interaction between the two, particularly now that Watson has a fiancee, Mary, and wants to move away from Holmes and in with his wife.
There are a number of other characters who play less important roles, but are still crucial to the plot. Rachel McAdams plays Irene Adler, a serial criminal who is nevertheless attracted to Holmes (and vice versa). Her effect on Holmes is great to see and although I'm sure that a few other actresses could have performed just as well, I think McAdams did a great job. I also enjoyed Kelly Reilly who plays Watson's Mary. I recognise the actress from Trial and Retribution, and although the role isn't particularly well developed, I think she made her mark and I hope she appears in the sequel (of which I'm sure there will be one). There is one scene in particular when she throws a glass of wine over Holmes that I really enjoyed.
Mark Strong plays Lord Blackwood. A British actor, he tends to change his image frequently and I rarely recognise him. Here he does a good enough job as the rather sinister Lord Blackwood, although I can't say that he was overly exciting and certainly didn't make anywhere near as much of an impression as the two main actors. Eddie Marsan plays Inspector Lestrade. Usually a cheeky cockney chappie, I think he did well to play Lestrade basically very straight - he could easily have turned the role into a bit of a farce, but he doesn't. Two other actors that deserve a mention are James Fox as the head of the secret order and Robert Maillet, who plays a massive Frenchman in Blackwood's pay and becomes rather too fond of beating the proverbial out of Holmes. Both are great - although I think Maillet has the edge simply because he is both frightening and funny at the same time.
The story is not taken directly from Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, for which the film has been criticized. However, I like the fact that director Guy Ritchie and the screenplay writers have come up with a unique storyline, without turning it into a piece of fiction that is entirely unrecognisable and silly, as has happened so often in the past. Much as I like Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, some of the films he made were downright stupid. Where I think Ritchie has been successful with this film is the combination of action (and there is plenty of that), humour and intrigue. The balance is perfect, making the film incredibly entertaining - so much so that over two hours slipped by without my noticing. The script is good too, again with a great injection of humour, particularly in the relationship between Holmes and Watson.
What impressed me the most was the special effects. This is a classy film to look at - just as well, because the budget was a massive $90 million. There are some truly superb scenes, most notably a fight in a dockyard that involves the release of a ship back into the water, an explosion that sends the main characters flying all over the place and the final scene, on top of Tower Bridge (this was presumably largely computer generated, because the Bridge was incomplete at the time the story is set). This is where it makes sense to watch the film on the big screen, because it really does look superb. I also really appreciated the fighting scenes - Downey has apparently been studying martial arts, so was able to put this into practice during the film. I'm not sure how much this was touched up, if at all, but it certainly looks amazing, especially when fighting with Robert Maillet's character. I liked the slowing down of the scenes so that we can see exactly what happens. This does make it inappropriate for children though.
On top of that, there is the amazing setting and attention to period detail. I was fascinated by the way that London was portrayed - bearing in mind that London is now a fairly modern city. The film was made in a series of settings, including Freemason's Hall and St Paul's Cathedral, the river at Wapping, Manchester and Liverpool (especially for the docks). The mixture is incredibly effective, even down to the dirt and darkness of the city streets. The costumes too are great, especially for the ladies. I was interested to see that Holmes wasn't wearing a deerstalker, made famous by Basil Rathbone in his Sherlock Holmes' days, opting instead for a fedora. I liked this - the deerstalker isn't mentioned in the books anyway and I always think it makes a bit of a joke of the character.
The music score, put together by Hans Zimmer, is good, although it's probably not something that I would ever want to buy separately. Much of it sounds like someone playing on a pub piano and it's not always pleasant to hear. The one thing that did stand out for me was the Dubliners singing The Rocky Road to Dublin during one of the bouts of fighting. This somehow seems to fit in perfectly.
The film has not yet been released on DVD - I am therefore reviewing the film only. I do strongly recommend seeing this in the cinema - I think the special effects will probably not be anywhere near as impressive on a small screen.
I really enjoyed this film; the only thing I have to criticise about it is that it's perhaps not the Holmes people will expect. Then again, if he was the same as Jeremy Brett's version or Basil Rathbone's version, then what would be the point of making the film in the first place? The originality of the story also means that the ending is a surprise. I think that Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law were fantastic and overall Guy Ritchie has finally made a film he can be proud of. Go and see the film with an open mind, knowing that you are going to be seeing Holmes in a whole different light, and hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I did. Recommended.
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Running time: 128 minutes
Summary: Not what I expected, but better