D: Guy Ritchie. DP: Philippe Rousselot. W: Micheal Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham & Simon Kinberg. Starring: Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law/Rachel McAdams/Mark Strong/Eddie Marsan/Kelly Reilly/William Houston/William Hope/Hans Matheson.
Starting out with literal clipitty-clops, Sherlock Holmes, the newest mass market Warner Brothers release, sadly hits its desired mark. Asking one of the literary world’s most famous detectives to solve a silly story that might ‘end the world.’ The film firmly reiterates the studio’s belief that most movie goers have zero brain capacity.
But don’t despair too much as at least Mr. Downey Jr. proves his own brain capacity and witty repertoire. He falls deftly into Holmes famous shoes while adding his own half grin and calculating physicality to the role. So that despite his ruggish charm and command of the camera he never ceases to commit to his nineteenth century bachelor’s mystique.
Trailing him is an uptight Law as physician Watson who, as popular culture remembers, is the practical side kick to the experimental and oftentimes extremist Holmes. Law and Downey Jr. clearly work well together, and Law’s desire to leave their detective practice is a nice slant on the story. Yet Law is unable to bring anything new to Watson’s role. Forcing him to match the rest of the Warner package of holiday entertainment.
Entertainment that is also, sadly, poorly written. Sporting lines such as “we need your help” this is “the end of the world” repeatedly suggests the three screen writers felt as silly as their story. Stupid dialogue sticks out amidst the action and rich set, especially for the villains of the film. Forcing their characters to feel vastly one-dimensional. Although, at least the better lines are saved for Downey Jr. and Law. With Downey Jr. given plenty of time to explain every solved mystery or crime. A device that gets rather tiresome after a few rounds. But ultimately, the story comes down to a secret society, a spell book, and magic tricks. Nothing but disappointing.
Another disappointment is McAdams. She is unfortunately underdeveloped here, sashaying through most of her scenes in hot pink satin. A color and fabric normally designated to prostitutes in this era and an oddly unexplained wardrobe choice for her. Those continue throughout the film as she occasionally cross-dresses in men’s clothing without any reference to how transgressive that was for the time. Obviously her role as a female thief/detective is transgressive in itself, but there is a point where standards and codes of conduct (and class) cannot be ignored as they are entrenched in British society. So although she’s pretty and pert, McAdams is wasted here and does the film a disservice.
But at least she has a dynamic playground. Shot almost entirely in the U.K. (some elements were in New York City), Sherlock Holmes at least has the look and the grit of nineteenth century London. Ritchie, with help of production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer, manages to create the look of his detective’s world despite some obvious historical embellishments.
But, where Ritchie truly shines is in the fight sequences, proving his prowess of action packed tight scenes that give resident Ritchie editor James Herbert plenty of challenging fun. This allows the film to move swiftly through its action and use the sequences to actually build the story and Downey Jr. and Law’s relationship. Throw in a score by Hans Zimmer and you’ve at least got some well tuned holiday entertainment.
And that’s what this is. The baseline for entertainment this season. A popcorn flick. Just hope you are in the mood for popcorn.