I am not one of those pseudo-sophisticated reviewers who thinks that he knows a lot about filmmaking. I have often in my reviews admitted that my primary qualification as a critic is that I have the seven bucks in my pocket that it takes to get into the matinee performance, but as such, I am the critic that the film maker is perhaps most interested in. I am, as they say, the cash cow, or at least representative of cash cows in general. I like good movies, well made, with interesting stories. If I spend my seven bucks on a movie, I expect to be entertained.
The last time I went to a movie (2012), the movie maker blew up the world, and you would have thought that would be moderately entertaining. It wasn't, and that surprised me, because I'm a sucker for films that blow things up. When Sand and I went off to see Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes, I was expecting something a bit better. (Then again, security camera footage from an uneventful rainy night at the 7-Eleven would be better than 2012.)
In this interpretation of Holmes (Downey), he is portrayed as a gifted but eccentric genius. His keen sense of observation and his ability to rapidly draw associations from disparate bits of information can make normal social interaction overwhelmingly irritating, frustrating and inconvenient. Left to his own devices, he would just as soon hole up in isolation or wallow in masochistic excesses. Only when "the game is afoot," only when there is a case that is sufficiently complex as to divert Holmes and occupy his mind, can Holmes deal with the world at large.
It is to this end that his friend Dr. Watson (Jude Law) works, acting as Holmes' buffer to proper society and trying to keep him occupied with work. It is not an entirely altruistic endeavor however, as Watson himself is addicted to "the game," wagering his life and reputation as readily and recklessly as he wagers his money on games of chance. Holmes uses the doctor's addiction to keep him on a leash, close at hand, but it really is a silken tether as there is a genuine love in the pair's co-dependency, something the script plays with entertainingly throughout the film, and Downey and Law portray wonderfully in their banter and expressions.
The film opens with the pair seemingly triumphantly foiling the murderous Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who is then hanged and declared dead by Dr. Watson. But much to everyone's chagrin and astonishment, Lord Blackwood resurrects from the dead and begins a campaign to take control of the British Empire, reclaim the lost American colonies and perhaps even take over the world a -- by supernatural means. Holmes and Watson of course can not let him succeed, and thus the game is afoot.
This is a delightful, well written, visually beautiful, well acted movie. Yes, it's your standard "buddy movie" a la Miami Vice, Lethal Weapon and Men in Black, but it's very well done, and Downey and Law quickly develop a convincing chemistry. And just as Miami Vice used iconic images to evoke the exotic, semi-tropical world Miami Beach, this film recreates 1890's London if not accurately at least meticulously, and in those times when you are not caught up in the story, you can gawk at the city and Tower Bridge that's under construction. There's not a lot of time for sightseeing, however, as the script moves you quickly along its serpentine path. Along the way, we encounter other Holmsian characters: Inspector Lestrade, the feisty Irene Adler (an adversary that Holmes both admires and mistrusts), Mary Morstan (Watson's beautiful fiancé), and the landlady Mrs. Hudson.
SPOILER ALERT! Holmes and Watson prevail, but you already knew that. It's how they get there that is supposed to be entertaining, and this movie entertains. If you are looking for a movie to see this holiday season, I highly recommend Sherlock Holmes.
"What does Sherlock Holmes have to do with Christmas?" I asked. "Especially a gritty, grubby S. Holmes? They're nuts, this release date is gonna bomb."
As usual, I was wrong, not having my finger on the pulse of movie-going America. Either that, or I do have a sense of the pulse -- after all, I was going to the movies the day after Christmas -- and just couldn't believe that many people besides myself were silly enough to go see a movie with Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes.
The movie theater was packed.
Wasn't Sherlock Holmes rather staid, rather stuffy, rather annoyingly calm and knowledgeable? Didn't he wear a stupid-looking hat and mumble knowledgeably about clues that no one else could notice, an immaculate, pompous, boring, know it all?
Oh, hell no, I guess not.
Now, there is no doubt that Robert Downey, Jr. wowed me in Iron Man as Tony Stark. But as Sherlock Holmes? I was skeptical that he could master the role, but ... well, there is something about him ... and hey, I said, let's just toss the dollars in the air and go have a look at RDJr without a shirt. He's been working out and looks pretty good, I guess that's worth a ticket...
Forget the beefcake angle. Downey plays a twitchy, hyperactive, hypersensitive Holmes who can't pass up an intriguing case. Jude Law is a calm, competent Dr. Watson, who has a hard time passing up -- okay, can't pass up -- following Holmes into danger and mystery. And what a team they make! Evildoers, beware!
In writing this review, remembering the movie, I'm still overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the cinematography. I became immersed in the story and in the representation of a different time. Should I speak of how real turn of the century London looked? Or should I be spending time trying to describe the silent "conversations" between Watson and Holmes, portrayed by the merest twitches of eyes and mouths?
Or the pacing of the movie, which had my fellow audience leaning forward in their seats? Or the musical soundtrack, which was the best movie music I've heard since The Matrix: Reloaded?
Oh, just go see it -- your face could use a big, happy grin.