Friday, January 22, 2010

Film Review: Sherlock Holmes

SOME critics who saw the recent re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes have accused director Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Madonna) of cinematic blasphemy for turning what was largely a cerebral crimefighter into a swashbuckling action hero that author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never envisioned him to be.

Or so they say. Well, I never read any of those books and I never saw how Sherlock Holmes was portrayed in earlier films about him either. But a little sleuthing on my own part (okay, I Googled) revealed that the English filmmaker is actually more faithful to the original material than he is given credit for.

In addition to his more famous deduction skills in solving crime, the real Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr. in his recent Golden Globe-winning performance) had the brawn to match his brains, most of which were also depicted in the film. Yes, Holmes does pack a pistol and is equally adept at using swords, canes and riding crop as weapons. He is also formidable at martial arts and describes himself as a bare-knuckled prizefighter.

And just as he is portrayed in the film, the real, okay, original Sherlock Holmes also led a bohemian lifestyle and was heavily dependent on drugs, as certain scenes implied. It certainly didn't help that he was very good in chemistry and that his ally, Dr. John Watson (played here by Jude Law) is actually a doctor. Watson is also a war veteran and Law’s reading of the part is closer to Doyle's vision than the bumbling sidekick he was essayed in earlier Sherlock Holmes adaptations.

Either that, or both Ritchie and myself read the same Wikipedia entry. Comparisons aside, Sherlock Holmes, the movie, is a pretty enjoyable ride, with a plot that’s a lot less convoluted than Ritchie’s other known works. Even the critics who scoff at the so-called “comic book” treatment of a literary classic (think 18th century Batman minus the brooding persona and the Halloween costume) have grudgingly conceded it to be entertaining.

The movie begins with Holmes and Watson successfully preventing a human sacrifice ritual conducted by one Lord Blackwood (an eerily creepy Mark Strong channeling Andy Garcia), who was later arrested, tried and executed. But just as Blackwood promised Holmes before he was hanged, three more deaths are going to occur as the fiend’s body mysteriously disappeared from his grave shortly after his execution. How Holmes and Watson will save the day from a mad villain (the good old-fashioned destroy the world type, okay, destroy London at least) that seemed to have risen from the dead is where the rest of the film revolves.

In the middle of all this, Holmes also re-acquaints himself with Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, radiant as ever), an old flame and femme fatale who is now in the employ of a nemesis that's familiar to old fans but won’t be fully revealed until the sequel.

Yes, there are crowd-pandering moments including a fistfight sequence straight out of Snatch, a CGI-effects aided thrilling chase scene that ends with a sunken steamship in a naval yard, a literally explosive cliff-hanger at an industrial slaughterhouse and a climax taking place on the still unfinished Tower Bridge (again, CGI-aided) that, among others, should keep Downey’s next project, Iron Man 2 in the audience’s minds.

Add the atmospheric score of Hans Zimmer, the largely dark and picturesque production values straight out of the London sets of Sweeney Todd and From Hell, the spot-on chemistry between Downey and Law as Holmes and Watson plus the faint promise of McAdams (hey, I like her, okay?) coming into her own in the next installment or so I hope. And oh, yes, throw in the brilliant deductive reasoning that the world’s most famous detective is known for and Ritchie has a nice film franchise equation that is simply too, uh,  elementary (to quote Sherlock Holmes himself) for audiences not to figure out.

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