Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sherlock Holmes in 2010

The new Sherlock Holmes is a multi-faceted film: a traditional Holmesian mystery with blockbuster action and buddy-movie characters. Well cast with Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson, director Guy Ritchie created a very ambitious movie. Did he succeed?

In one of his few mainstream films, Ritchie developed a mystery true to Arthur Conan Doyle's style. The story is dark and tricky with a very Victorian London in the background. Holmes is, of course, fiendishly clever, but the villian is rather typically evil. Mark Strong's Lord Blackdeath (or some name similar) with his unrelieved scowling seems predictable. The almost sepia tone of the photography is also tiresome, but it's effect is gorgeous in some scenes. Thankfully, the mystery draws you in. Is Lord Blackdeath supernaturally powerful? Downey's Holmes knows the answer the whole time, and the revelation is suspenseful.

Having only a passing knowledge of Holmes' mysteries, I suspect they rarely had numerous explosions and fistfights. I may be wrong. However, for a movie to succeed now, that kind of excitement is necessary. If Ritchie had made a smart mystery without all the macho action, it would have opened to far less acclaim. And isn't edgy action Ritchie's specialty? Without the chases and well-choreographed fights, this movie would have ended up a Gosford Park-style film. While Gosford Park is excellent, it wasn't a high-octane thriller. The gritty action sequences take Holmes to a new level, and will bring the famous detective to a different generation of movie fans.

The relationship between Holmes and Watson is intriguing. They bicker, Holmes borrows Watson's clothes, and then tries to break up his romance. Are they brothers, sisters, or an old married couple? Holmes' love interest in the film, played by Rachel McAdams, is obviously besotted with him. Why does he evade her embrace? Is he afraid of being hurt by her again? Or is he secretly gay? I don't think so. But the ambiguous relationship adds depth to the film. It's not your typical buddy movie, but fits into that category, too.

So in this version of Sherlock Holmes, there's blockbuster action for brainless fun, a mystery to unravel, and two cute actors to watch. What else does a girl want?