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sherlock holmes
Sherlock Holmes
Reviewer: Ricardo Barberini
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Robert Maillet, Geraldine James

This lavish production is literally a masterpiece of special effects and period scenery.  Set in the gloomy London of the late 1800’s the movie opens with Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) saving a young woman from being sacrificed by a practitioner of the dark arts.  For his foul deeds of sacrificing young maidens to the Devil, a nobleman, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), is captured in the nick of time and is sentenced to death by hanging.

After the successful capture of the mad Lord, Holmes goes into one of his drug-induced states of stupor and eventually is brought back to reality on the eve of Lord Blackwood’s execution.  Blackwood goes happily to the gallows predicting that he will be resurrected soon and will be ruling the World with the help of Satan.  Sure enough, after a few days, there are reports of sightings and his coffin is found to contain the remains of another man.   What follows is a series of scary murders, while Holmes finds himself unable to figure out the logic behind the Black Magic that is killing and terrifying the people.

With London is in mortal fear, Holmes is asked by the highest government officials to help find the monster lord.  In the meantime, he is approached by his ex girlfriend Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) for help to find a missing person.  Irene is a master thief and Holmes does not trust her.  What he does not know is that the Irene is working for his archenemy, Dr. Moriarty, who is trying to benefit from the situation.

We eventually see the feared Lord Blackwood in flesh and he manages to fool the Home Secretary, who is in charge of the Police, to turn on Sherlock Holmes and have him arrested.   Holmes, with the aid of his ex girlfriend and Dr. Watson evades the police and the murderous attempts of Lord Blackwood and his gang through a series of hand-to-hand combats, explosions and buzz saw attacks but finally allows himself to be captured to find the truth behind Lord Blackwood’s motives and  power.

The finale is again a tour de force of special effects set on the half-constructed Tower Bridge of London.

The director, Guy Ritchie, was married to Madonna and for years endured the indignity of being called Mr. Madonna.  Finally, he has managed to climb out of the oblivion of her shadow to showcase his talents as a moviemaker.  His previous movies are not very memorable and none was successful in the US.   Guy was a school dropout at 15.  In the normal course of events, he would have ended up either as a street sweeper or on permanent welfare like many of his countrymen in UK.  However, he had the great fortune of coming to the attention of Trudie Styler - Sting’s wife- while making commercial videos for rock bands and eventually found fame and Madonna, or more likely Madonna and fame.  

I am adding the above to clarify my expectations.  As a movie, Sherlock Holmes relies on three elements; the story which was written by Michael Johnson and Anthony Peckham, the special effects and acting.  There is some substance to “Sherlock Holmes” but it is not that original.  The story is somewhat reminiscent of the “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Silk Stocking” which came out as a TV movie in 2004.  That movie starred Guy’s friend and godfather to his child David; Rupert Everett. 

The special effects definitely get high marks.  The movie really depicts the London of the 19th century with its doom and grayness and yet shows its vitality and enterprise in building monumental buildings like the majestic Tower Bridge. 

As for acting, Robert Downey Jr. is a fine actor and here he reprises his erstwhile life as a drug addict perfectly and to the point.  His trances and stumbling do not seem like put-ons.  The original Holmes was supposed to be fastidious and a very particular about his appearance.  Though, he did leave his shoes on the table to antagonize the housekeeper Mrs. Hudson!  Robert Downey’s Holmes is Scruffy, dirty and messy.  He does not even know how to hold a fork when he is eating. 

What I do not understand is why he has to be such a grubby sleazy Sherlock Holmes?  He has that unkempt, disheveled look throughout the movie. He is filthy and one feels that he must be stinking of sweat and other excrement.   In contrast, Jude Law as Dr. Watson is always nattily dressed and sharp.  

The movie also, has a Comics magazine feel about it.  There are many sequences in which Holmes thinks about what he will do next in slow motion and then performs it in super speed. I put that down to Guy’s educational background.  He may have been brought up on a diet of Comics.

As for other characters, Eddie Marsan as Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade is in his element. Lestrade is supposed to be just a notch above Dr. Watson in intelligence and not much more.  In this movie, Jude Law’s Watson is the more intelligent character.  Mark Strong’s Lord Blackwood is only memorable for the crooked front tooth that they gave him.  I sympathatise with the chap.  Many of us used to have one as a kid, but then we are blessed with expensive dentists who fix such things.

The Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, have been told and retold, reprinted countless times and made into movies starting nearly a Century ago. The first movie was made in Denmark back in 1911.

Numerous characters have played the role.  They even had Holmes meet Sigmund Freud in “The Seven-Percent solution.”

Many people consider Basil Rathbone as the quintessential Holmes that all other Holmes are measured against.  With Nigel Bruce as his blithering buffoon of an assistant Watson and Dennis Hoey as Inspector Lestrade, they made a dozen movies.  There were no special effects or stunt men in those movies and yet having seen those movies a dozen times or more, I still find them refreshingly original and entertaining.   I think what made them unique was the fact that they were all made in Hollywood, but with genuine English actors.  Almost all the others have been made in England or other parts of the world.  That combination worked perfectly. 

Finally, what do we think of this movie?  This is not a work of art but it is very engaging and wholesome entertainment.  It may not be the Sherlock Holmes of your great grandfather but it will do. We give this movie starstarstarand our recommendation to see it.