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Sherlock Holmes

Rachel Winterbottom deduces that Guy Ritchie has probably never read anything by Arthur Conan Doyle

Written by . Published on January 6th 2010.

Sherlock Holmes

The eccentric, bohemian crime-solver has been given a Guy Ritchie re-vamp. Does this mean that the old bean is to be replaced by a cockney geezer who creates chaos when he tries to rip off Dr Watson, a hash-baron who’s growing shoe boxes full of his new drug Elementary in the house next door? Evidently not.

Downey Jr’s Holmes uses his famed powers of deduction to render a man unconscious (this is a Ritchie film, after all) and has no qualms about using a gun in a domestic environment.

With a collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original characters and the help of Robert Downey Jr’s boomeranging popularity, Ritchie’s created a modern take on the nineteenth-century Holmes.

Set in London in 1891, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson prevent a ritualistic human sacrifice and the dastardly Lord Blackwood is hanged for murder. Three months later, the self-styled satanist is seen walking away from his own shattered tomb, apparently back from the dead.

After this excitement, a bored Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) is given a case by an old acquaintance, the luscious crook Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), to find a missing red-haired midget. Watson, meanwhile, is attempting to move in with his fiancé and help the sulking Holmes come to terms with his bride-to-be.

Always one step ahead of Scotland Yard, the duo is soon investigating murders, the occult, secret societies and collecting clues all over the city that point to a seemingly supernatural explanation. The race is on to deduce Lord Blackwood’s devious plan, rescue the damsel and save the day. Elementary and all that.

Downey Jr’s Holmes uses his famed powers of deduction to render a man unconscious (this is a Ritchie film, after all) and has no qualms about using a gun in a domestic environment. His exceptional mind makes gargantuan leaps of logic from the minutest of details. He is also a socially inadequate loner, and for all his brilliance, he is never quite with us. Holmes has the usual gentleman’s outlets for his hang-ups – drinking, smoking, fine-dining, fist-fighting...

OK, so there’s no deerstalker and the tweed is a no-show, but fans of the books will know that Conan Doyle’s Holmes was a complicated man with vices aplenty. Taken to depression between cases, his brilliant mind sought other distractions. The famed cocaine habit may not be touched upon by Ritchie, but you still wouldn’t put it past this Holmes to dabble. In this sense, this film stays loyal to the original. Still, the fist-fighting might be pushing it a bit.

Jude Law’s Watson is a man who’s seen war, a respected surgeon and, more importantly, he’s handy in a fight. Apparently there are some problems that words just can’t solve, and funnily enough these are all the duo appear to encounter. This is a refreshing deviation from the bumbling Watson of old, but who wouldn’t pay to see Law do slapstick?

Rachel McAdams' Irene Adler is a Conan Doyle original. She’s the woman for Holmes and the only person who’s ever outwitted him. McAdams utilises her usual on-screen charm to play Holmes’ scheming foil, but is sadly reduced to playing the damsel in distress. Her storyline is bypassed in the end for a cheap stab at a potential sequel.

Mark Strong (RocknRolla) is decent enough as Lord Blackwood, but the character is as complex as your standard Scooby Doo villain, barring the tendency to use a misleading costume (which would have at least added a sense of mystery to the performance). It’s never a good idea to hinge an entire plot around an antagonist whose most enigmatic line – ‘Death... is only the beginning’ – is from a Stephen Sommers movie (watch The Mummy, you’ll understand).

Holmes’ quirks make and save this film. From playing his violin to an audience of flies to stealing Watson’s clothes – whether these are the additional touches Downey Jr himself came up with or not, Ritchie must be thankful for them. There’s also the endearing relationship between Holmes (‘old cock’) and Watson (‘mother hen’), who between them kick down so many doors that carpentry must be the richest profession in London.

This is at best a buddy movie, a bro-mance (if you’ll excuse the term) no more complicated than Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson’s Shanghai series, and it doesn’t pretend otherwise. It probably won’t entice Conan Doyle fans as this update could almost have been made by someone who hasn’t actually read the original stories, but has directed a few London-based gangster movies. Coincidentally, it will also be watched by people who haven’t read the original series, but have seen a few London-based gangster movies.

It's a long and sometimes garbled homage to Holmes. There’s plenty of action and comedy but also a tired reliance on clichés like the ol’ murder locations on a map creating a pentagram pointing to the location of the next killing (it happens more than you’d think). Despite all clues to the contrary, a sequel is still likely.


Sherlock Holmes (12A) is on general release now.

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