Sunday, January 10, 2010

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes (Warner)

Guy Ritchie’s take on the famous English detective Sherlock Holmes promised to deliver a new spin on the classic character. With a star studded cast that includes Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams, and an add campaign that advertised a full throttle adventure, all the pieces of a great movie seem to be in place. So, does the film live up to expectations? Well, no sadly, not really.

So where does the film falter? The performances from Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes) and Jude Law (Dr. Watson) are good, and the performances by Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler) and Mark Strong (Lord Blackwood) are sufficient (though Blackwood is a bit of a limp villain). Sadly, there isn’t anything the actors could do to stop the problems with the film. The main problem runs much deeper, and was already in effect before the actors ever stepped in front of the cameras. What I’m referring to of course is the screenplay, which I can only describe as dull and rushed.

From the very get go something seemed wrong. I sat in the theatre wondering to myself, “Why doesn’t this feel right?” And then it hit me. “Where’s the set up?” Well, there isn’t one really. As the film opens up, Holmes and Watson are in an underground tunnel, fighting two men, and then making there way into an open room where what looks to be an ancient ritual of human sacrifice is taking place. The person conducting the ritual is none other than Lord Blackwood. At this point I’m thinking to myself, “Oh God, the theatre has screwed something up. This is the end of the film….” But it wasn’t. It was just a really odd opening to a movie. Holmes and Watson stop the ritual and Lord Blackwood is apprehended and sent to prison. As he is taken into custody, Lord Blackwood taunts Holmes that “It isn’t over.” I wish it had been. Instead, what happens is we are introduced to Holmes’ old flame … (does every hero have to have an old flame?) who isn’t exactly what she seems, and from this point on, the trio basically move from one set to another, fighting more than detecting, until they stumble their way to the end of the film, revealing an “evil master plan” that seems as if it was written by a six year old.

There are a few moments in the film where Holmes thought process is shown to the audience visually. This would have been a great way to get across Holmes intelligence in a film adaptation, if only it would have been used as a way to show his keen eye for picking up clues and putting the pieces together. Instead, it is used to show how Holmes plans out his moves in a fight before it actually happens, again putting more emphasis on Holmes as a fighter and action adventurer than a detective.

By the time we reach the conclusion, I don’t feel as if we know anymore about the central characters than when the film began. Sure, most of us know who Sherlock Holmes and his trusty sidekick are, but how many of us have read the actual stories? If you haven’t then this film won’t teach you what these stories are really like, and if you have read the stories, then the film will probably play even worse for you since Holmes is played more as a sly fighter than a detective.

This ruined opportunity could have easily been prevented. Many of the problems with the screenplay could have been avoided if they simply would have done an origin story for the first film of what I suppose will end up being a series. How did Holmes become a detective that is respected by the police? How did Holmes and Watson meet, befriend each other, and eventually work together to solve mysteries? Neither of these issues are addressed and it really hurts the film. Secondly, if you were going to base a film series on one of the most famous characters from popular fiction, why would you not base the story on one of the beloved works featuring the character?

Evidently the filmmakers thought that an intelligent, more direct adaptation of the great detective wouldn’t play to the average A.D.D. movie viewer, so instead of sprinkling the story with clues, they sprinkled it with explosions and action sequences. What’s worse is that instead of actually filming the final confrontation on a set, the majority of the setting is done in very obvious CG. Some directors can handle filming scenes where vast amounts of CG will be needed and integrate it well. A good example of this would be what J.J. Abrams was able to do with the recent Star Trek reboot. Unfortunately, Ritchie doesn’t handle this type of filming well in Holmes. It’s bad enough that the over the top action doesn’t fit the character or story that should be expected from a Sherlock Holmes movie, but when the effects are blatantly obvious, it only makes things worse. The only thing elementary about this Sherlock Holmes is how much of a missed opportunity it is.

Terry Barnhill
Staff Reviewer

Read More