REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes [2009]

“All it’s missing is a ginger midget”

We all knew that Sherlock Holmes would be a Guy Ritchie film, the trailers made sure about that. The question remained, however, whether the detective tale would have anything to do with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation besides the title. Well, it begins by showing the hybrid of both styles the final film ends up being, with Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes deducing in his mind how he will dispatch a watchdog goon standing guard. The slomotion stylings in his head soon become a fast-paced reality and the adventure has begun. Would I have rather seen Ritchie make his own mystery tale and set it in the modern day back alleys of London? Of course I would, no matter how many times he recycles that successful formula, my butt is in the seat. But this amalgamation is still worthy of a look see, if nothing else than to recall that the director has flair and it can work whether attached to his own script or not.

My familiarity to the Sherlock Holmes canon is limited at best, but after watching this movie I can see how much a show like “Scooby Doo” appropriated from the British crime solver. Behind all the bare-knuckle fights, sarcastic quips, high-octane edits, and pyrotechnics galore, there still resides the very intricately woven caper at hand. Holmes is always with an eye open, taking in every single, minute detail around him to eventually piece together into a solution. And with all the supernatural voodoo going on—men rising from the dead, boiling in bathwater, and combusting into flames—a nice logical reasoning is very welcome when all is said and done. I seriously will admit to thinking Downey Jr. would reach out and rip the ‘Mark Strong’ mask off our main villain’s head to uncover the true nefarious mastermind. Maybe that will be on the DVD under alternate endings.

What does occur is the witnessing of an off-his-rocker nutjob using an extraordinary intelligence to solve what are otherwise airtight criminal acts. Downey Jr. truly is one of the best actors working today and he could carry any role put upon him. It may seem a bit strange at first to see this grizzled, fit, and cynically humorous man as the proper, overcoat-wearing detective we have grown up envisioning, but again, this is Guy Ritchie. Still taking place in the past, where remote controlled detonators are a thing of the future, the film only utilizes what is available to the times, there are no high-tech gadgets being invented in a makeshift laboratory. Holmes is portrayed as a brilliant outsider hired privately to help, or more often than not succeed where the police have failed, in ongoing investigations. His partner, Dr. Watson, with inspired casting in Jude Law to be the sane foil to the manic persona of his friend, has been assisting for years, bringing his medical expertise to the table—as well as a penchant for the odd fistfight. The two are only too familiar with mind games set by their despicable antagonists and the one set before them here is no different, although seemingly much more dangerous.

To add a little more intrigue to the proceedings, the audience enters the fray just as our duo is splitting apart. Watson has had enough of the bumps and bruises and decides to settle down with his girlfriend and move away from the trouble his old friend wears around his neck. So, Holmes, being the genius he is, decides to work an angle by tricking his partner into joining him on numerous escapades in attempts to discover what the supposedly dead Lord Blackwood is up to with his black magic wizardry. The playful deceit only leads to an enjoyable rapport between Downey Jr. and Law, adding a nice layer to their characters by infusing it all with that blood brother connection, and of course a need to piss the other off at any opportunity. The easy jokes about the two being a couple are included because obvious sells I guess, but I tried to excise those moments for the smarter comedy used otherwise. Throw in Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, a professional thief and the only person to get the best of Sherlock himself, as well as his heart, and the plot becomes more elaborate, threading together multiple lines in a good way.

Mark Strong is a recent staple to the Ritchie ensemble and has once more taken villainy to another level. His steely stare and immovable face elicit fear in all who stand before him. His ritualized murders work to strengthen this feeling of dread especially as it seems his control over the dark arts is great. What his endgame is will eventually be revealed and the conspiracy going on through England uncovered by the only man smart enough to do so. Robert Downey Jr. does carry it all with his appealing humor and believability in both his wits and foibles, but Strong does his part to steal some moments as well. I feel as though Law has disappeared somewhat from the industry after a couple years of five plus movies apiece and this is a welcome return in a complementary role, keeping what could have been a too-big performance by Holmes in check. And McAdams is a lovely addition to make sure the boys are on their toes, playing both enemy and friend, whichever suits her own motives.

So, with great acting work; fun, stylish action and cutting, (I enjoyed the visual foreshadowing bits as well as the random close ups to seemingly ordinary ephemera—if the camera focuses on something it will come into play later), at the hands of Ritchie; a pleasingly dark and monotone palette; and entertaining humor, Sherlock Holmes should be a huge success. Unfortunately, with Ritchie’s pedigree of original creations, sometimes to the point of incomprehension, the overall plot is too ordinary. It isn’t simple—Holmes’ eventual revelatory explanations shed light on the extensively detailed undertakings so as to cover any plot-hole possibilities—it’s just all so clean-cut. I wanted more wildcards, maybe even a bigger role from the mysterious Professor Moriarty instead of a blatant attempt at manufacturing a sequel. In the end, the film left me wanting more and, if box office tickets are good enough, I will probably get it at a later date. There was also no surprise unveiling of the rumored Brad Pitt as the arch-nemesis, but due to sheer marketing reasons alone, I anticipate seeing more of Holmes before ever spying a glimpse into the RocknRolla universe again.

Sherlock Holmes 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] (L-R) JUDE LAW as Dr. John Watson, ROBERT DOWNEY JR. as Sherlock Holmes and RACHEL McADAMS as Irene Adler in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action-adventure mystery “Sherlock Holmes,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Alex Bailey
[2] MARK STRONG as Lord Blackwood in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action-adventure mystery “Sherlock Holmes,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


8 Responses to “REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes [2009]”
  1. bakedinmaine says:

    Great writing and great review of a great movie!
    I enjoyed it,

  2. glad you enjoyed and thanks for reading.

    tonight at my screening for Youth in Revolt, a couple told me they weren’t too fond of Holmes, and I have to say they were the first two to not say they at least had fun with it. even Holmes novelization fans I know really enjoyed it.

  3. wickedvox says:

    Beautifully written review, and spot on! It may not have been a masterpiece, but the film was fun, and Downey Jr. was brilliant. Although I’m not a fan of sequels the end had me chomping at the bit to see the next movie. I cannot wait to see Moriarty revealed!

  4. bakedinmaine says:

    Loved “Bob” Downey Jr. as Holmes and I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel. I especially laughed at the the scene where he woke up nude in handcuffs lol! Hmmm…What’s up with that?

  5. Roni says:

    I am going crazy? There are a couple of things I still cannot figure out after my 8th time at the film. ONE: in the scene when Holmes goes to Lord Robert’s home to examine his death in the tub – he has his left hand bandage. How did he injure it? TWO: Where did they come up with the term “ginger midget?” I thought when I saw this title that I had found the answer – but obviously not. Please reply to my email and calm my mental concerns.

    Hopefully, it is obvious that I agree with the review since I have seen the movie so many times. I truly believe that the pairing of Downey and Law was a stoke of genius on Guy Ritche’s part.

  6. Roni,
    I’m not sure why the bandage as I haven’t seen the film since the preview last December, but I can help with the Ginger Midget. ‘Ginger’ is a term used to describe a red-head. So since the midget was red-headed, Holmes in his humor coined him the Ginger Midget.
    Thanks for reading,

  7. Sloth says:

    RonI: Holmes ties the bandage while in the prison yard with Watson after the fight with Dredger. He wears it throughout the scene in Irene’s hotel room.

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