Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

Guy Ritchie's latest film may seem like something of a departure for the director, who is best knows for his high-testosterone London-centric gangster flicks. But his take on Sherlock Holmes is in keeping with the director's cinematic preoccupations. Virtually all of Ritchie's trademarks are on display in Sherlock Holmes; London setting, primarily male cast, discursive flash-backs, stylized boxing sequences, and heavy use of underworld slang.

Robert Downey Jr. plays the title character, and his hammy enthusiasm makes up for his half-hearted - and sometimes unintelligible - attempt at an English accent. (Ritchie claims that Downey's accent is "flawless." A claim that seems highly dubious given the fact that Downey sounds absolutely nothing like the English actors he's onscreen with.) Jude Law plays Dr. Watson; devoted friend, natty dresser, and reluctant partner in investigations. Both live and work at 221B Baker Street. Watson runs his medical practice in one flat, Holmes ruminates in another. The duo's most recent case concerns an occultist Parliamentarian named Lord Henry Blackwood, whose execution is only the beginning of his criminal machinations.

If you are a fan of the 1940s Basil Rathbone adaptations, then this is really not the adaptation for you. This is quite literally the Sherlock Holmes film for people who do not care for Sherlock Holmes. Downey's detective does not wear a deerstalker cap, his pipe-smoking is not demonstrative, and his violin-playing is basically a comic gag. He is a bohemian intellectual, and a somewhat more hard-boiled detective than we might have imagined. A bare-knuckled boxer who spends his time - between cases - drinking in his room and plotting the dissolution of his best friend's marriage. As it turns out, Sherlock Holmes is first and foremost a buddy film. In fact, it shares several themes with the 2009 comedy I Love You, Man. (Watson's impending engagement is continually undermined by his friend, who is threatened by this loss of male companionship.) The romance between Holmes and Watson is far more convincing than that with their respective female love interests, Rachel McAdams and Kelly Reilly.

Sherlock Holmes has over-the-top action sequences, stylish and highly entertaining protagonists, and appealingly dry humor. The film's denouement leaves the possibility of a sequel wide open, so we're likely to see another chapter.