If you’ve read the Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you’ll already know that the fictional detective is a London-based investigator famed for his great intellect, powers of deduction and use of forensics in pursuit of the truth. A Gil Grissom for the turn of the century, if you will – although the CSI mentor didn’t smoke cigars or indulge in liquid cocaine, as far as I know!
There is no sign of a tweed jacket or deerstalker hat as director Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla) hauls the literary icon on to the silver screen in gritty style. I mentioned in my preview last year that I would be watching to see how much of the essence of the books is retained in the Hollywood production – and I see now that there was no reason to worry. Ritchie has remained true to the man immortalised by Doyle – so much so that you’re left wondering whether Basil Rathbone (1940s) and Jeremy Brett (1980s) even bothered to delve into Doyle’s world before portraying Holmes in a series of radio and television projects all those years ago.
Ritchie puts Holmes into sharp focus with a searing, honest look at the internal realm that dictates his moods and movements – and this is exactly what allows Robert Downey Jr (The Soloist, Tropic Thunder) to shine. The Iron Man star paints the sleuth as an egocentric loner whose Bohemian lifestyle does little to distract him from the boredom that inevitably ensues when he’s not trying to solve a case.
Holmes’ penchant for martial arts (largely ignored in previous theatrical outings) is pounced on by Ritchie, who uses bare-knuckle fight scenes as a canvas to illustrate the detective’s physical prowess and superior smarts. One of my favourite moments is a slow-motion sequence where Holmes talks the audience through his plan of attack, explaining in detail how each blow will affect his opponent. A montage of kicks and punches drives his point home – then the scene is played in real time and the burly bugger who spat at him is left gasping for air in a matter of seconds.
A partner in crime
Jude Law (Alfie, Closer) holds his own as the calm right-hand man to Downey’s flamboyant – if slightly reluctant – hero, seamlessly moving Dr John Watson from partner to accomplice. But he is far from the bumbling fool so often cast as a mere sidekick to Holmes… No, Law brings a steady determination and sombre resignation to the role – and you never feel as though his talents and skills are inferior to those of the man he so deeply admires.
The interactions between Holmes and Watson are central to the story and I think Downey and Law have captured the mutual regard at the heart of the relationship with natural grace and a hearty helping of boys’ club banter. Reports from the set indicate that they were entirely at ease in other’s company throughout filming and this friendship translates well on screen.
A weak rival
My two biggest disappointments were Mark Strong (Stardust, Body Of Lies) and Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, State Of Play). Strong, playing the evil Lord Blackwood, is suitably scary at all the right moments, but fails to create a believable bad guy. His lust for power and his passion for the dark arts made me dislike him, but that dislike never grew into hate – and so the showdown between him and Holmes left me wanting. Blackwood meets his maker at the end of a rope, but the scene didn’t evoke what I call the “die-die-die-you-evil-bastard” moment of audience satisfaction.
Rachel McAdams as the femme fatale Irene Adler didn’t inspire me at all. She is too young for someone who is supposed to be jaded and worldly-wise and there is no chemistry between her and Downey, so the love/lust between them is unconvincing. She looks beautiful in period costume and handles herself well alongside the men, but I think the role could have been taken in another direction by someone with a bit more gravitas.
Favourite quotes from the film
(A naked Holmes is handcuffed to a hotel bed, with only a cushion covering his manhood. A maid enters the room, sees him, and screams)
HOLMES: Madame, I need you to remain calm and trust me, I’m a professional. Beneath this pillow lies the key to my release.
(The maid screams again and runs away)
HOLMES: You have the grand gift of silence, Watson. It makes you quite invaluable as a companion.
WATSON: (Sneers, leans across the carriage and punches Holmes in the face, then grins)
WATSON: You do know that what you’re drinking is meant for eye surgery? (To Holmes as he guzzles a clear liquid)
HOLMES: You’ve never complained about my methods before…
WATSON: I’ve never complained! When have I ever complained about you practising the violin at three in the morning, or your mess, your general lack of hygiene, your experiments on my dog, or the fact that you steal my clothes?
ADLER: Why are you always so suspicious?
HOLMES: Should I answer chronologically or alphabetically?