Home > Reviews > Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES


Just saw this film on DVD, and I liked it.  Yep, it’s a revisionist version of Sherlock Holmes in a modern action-blockbuster idiom, but in its own way it’s more faithful to the original stories than most filmic adaptations.  It had some good homages, not only to Conan Doyle’s original stories, but to earlier adaptations such as the Granada series with Jeremy Brett (homaged in the first shot of Baker Street, mimicking its titles, and in Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes voice, which showed some influence from Brett).  The characterizations were on target, the continuity details fairly good (allowing for creative license here and there), and the depiction of Holmes’s deductive methods and problem-solving was interesting.  Good to see a competent, intelligent Watson who’s learned to be almost as good a detective as Holmes, and it’s interesting to see the fact of his marriage worked into the story.

And as an action blockbuster, it worked pretty well, without too badly violating the plausibility of its setting (aside from some physical impossibilities like the cattle prod sending the big guy, Dredger, flying several feet through the air).  I was suitably entertained.

I have mixed feelings about Irene Adler’s role here.  I hate it when adaptations portray Adler as a love interest for Holmes.  That’s not it at all.  Holmes was fascinated by Adler because of his deeply rooted sexism.  He took it for granted that men were intellectual and women emotional, and that emotion was useless.  The idea that he could be outsmarted by anyone was shocking, but being outsmarted by a woman was beyond his ability to comprehend.  It contradicted his whole view of existence, and he was unable to figure it out — hence his fixation.  But on the other hand, I can understand the need to go in more of a “love interest” direction in a film like this, and it was handled better than in some adaptations I’ve seen (like that awful Sherlock Holmes in New York with a mindbogglingly miscast Roger Moore as Holmes), since Adler was the aggressor throughout and was portrayed as suitably brilliant, devious, and manipulative.  I think Rachel McAdams is too young for the role, and I’m not entirely convinced by her as a brilliant, cunning, strong-willed foe, but what the hey, she’s pretty hot.  (The one thing I repeatedly found myself thinking as I watched her was that she’d be perfect for a live-action version of Betty Boop.)

Mark Strong did an effective job as the villain Lord Blackwood, but I was more interested by the fact that he’s playing Sinestro in the upcoming Green Lantern film.  And as I watched him, I found myself thinking, “You know, he does look like Sinestro.”

I was lukewarm on Jude Law as Watson.  He did an okay job, but it didn’t really grab me.  The actress playing his wife-to-be, Kelly Reilly, is rather enchanting, however.  I hope she has a larger role in the sequel.

But as with the Iron Man films, it’s Downey’s performance that’s really the main draw.  And yet he manages to create a character very distinct from Tony Stark.  In a lot of ways, Stark and Holmes are much alike — dissolute, eccentric geniuses with self-destructive habits and abrasive personalities.  Yet Downey makes them distinct, largely through his vocal performance.  He really does do a very convincing English accent, at least to my ears, and brings more bass and resonance to his voice than I’m used to hearing in it (that’s the Brett influence).

At first I was unhappy seeing that Hans Zimmer did the score, since I was expecting another blaring wallpaper score like Inception had.  But he actually did a pretty distinctive and interesting score with unusual instrumentation and a more melodic, leitmotif-driven approach than I expect from Zimmer.

All in all, a pretty effective and entertaining film.  Sometimes I regret that films these days always have to be so big and elaborate and over-the-top, but as that kind of film goes, this is a good entry.  I look forward to the sequels.

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  1. Barrie Suddery
    September 17, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Have to say I didn’t really like it as I grew up watching the Jeremy Brett version of Holmes on TV and that Downey’s version was this martial arts “bad ass”.

    The reason I was drawn the character in the first place was that he outsmarts his opponents and when violence is required, it’s Watson the Army veteran who steps in. This gives us the brotherly bond between the two as Watson goes out of his way to protect Holmes out of a paternalistic feeling.

    I would highly recommend the BBC revamp starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson instead.

    • September 17, 2010 at 7:49 am

      The original stories made it clear that Holmes was an expert at fisticuffs and stick-fighting. He and Watson fought side-by-side. Intellectual or not, Doyle’s Holmes was still a British gentleman, and implicit in that is the expectation that he would be able and willing to fight for himself. (I’m quite certain that Brett’s Holmes held his own in a number of fights, even if it wasn’t to the same extent as this version.) This was just building on that precedent from the Doyle canon, so I found it valid. It built on different aspects of the stories than prior adaptations, but it was still drawing on the authentic source material. And that’s what a new adaptation should do — draw on the source in a way that’s fresh and distinctive from what previous adaptations have done.

      Yes, it was exaggerated, but that’s the idiom of the modern US feature film, so I figure either you accept it or you stop seeing new movies altogether. I long ago learned not to blame individual works for the formulae imposed on them by their medium, but instead to gauge how distinctive and intelligent they managed to be within those formulae.

      And I could respect it because Holmes’s fighting prowess was presented as an extension of his intellectual prowess — his powers of observation told him his opponents’ weak points, and his detailed knowledge of anatomy and lightning-fast thought processes enabled him to plan out an entire fight before he struck the first blow, thus ensuring victory. I’m not a fan of violence, but I enjoy stories about problem-solving. It was a fresh and imaginative interpretation of what Holmes’s capabilities would permit him to do, and I respect that.

      • Barrie Suddery
        September 18, 2010 at 6:07 am

        Excellent points, well made. I can see what you mean and that encourages me to give the movie another go.

        Have you had a chance to see the BBC revamp yet?

      • September 18, 2010 at 7:25 am

        No, but it’s going to be on PBS starting October 24. I’ll catch it then.

  2. September 19, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Agreed on the overall watchability of the movie, although the idea of Adler as love interest, real or potential, is one we’ll have to agree to disagree on. Who could attract Holmes but one he’d found to be an intellectual equal? Granted that his arrogance – earned arrogance, to be sure – would make the revelation a shock to him when it happened…

    Went back for a second viewing after seeing it the first time with friends, in fact.

    • September 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm

      “Who could attract Holmes but one he’d found to be an intellectual equal?”

      If Holmes were interested in romance at all, I’d agree. My point is that “A Scandal in Bohemia” explicitly says that’s not what it’s about:

      “It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind.”

      It can’t be more explicit than that. Holmes’s fascination with Adler was intellectual, not romantic.

      But as I said, what makes it more acceptable for me in this version is that the romantic impetus comes almost entirely from Irene. That’s in character, since she is canonically something of a seductress, certainly a woman who’s taken multiple lovers. Sure, the film implies that the attraction is reciprocated, but subtly enough that it doesn’t bother me more than any of the other revisionist aspects.

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