Sherlock Holmes is a literary character who needs no real introduction. That tall, lean, imposing figure has been a part of our collective consciousness for so long that he is permanently ingrained in our minds. Even the smallest children know who he is – he is the adversary of crime and the master of logic, using his keen powers of observation and his brilliant mind to solve some of the most mind-boggling cases of the 19th century. It’s beyond easy to imagine that penetrating gaze, that riveting attention, that mind on the border of insanity.
So, if you enjoy deep, serious, intense, psychological reasoning, with a bit of action, a few one-liners and some general badassery thrown in, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is the film for you. Or, well, it was for me.
The first time I saw Sherlock Holmes, I was at my cousins’ house. It was late, and I was tired and in no particular mood to keep my eyes open and watch a film. But I will always be glad that I shifted in my seat and focused my bleary eyes on the television, because after the first scene I was entranced. Taken. Gone. The costumes did it for me. The setting did it for me. (I was a little too tired to focus on the plot, but at least it gave me an excuse to watch the movie again).
Still a little doubtful? Okay. Then imagine this.
The year is 1890. It’s winter in London. Murders are rampant in the city, and rumors of dark magic are everywhere.
Holmes (Robert Downey Jr; Charlie Chaplin, Eros, Iron Man) and his faithful side-kick Watson (Jude Law; Alfie, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anna Karenina) are already on the scene of the latest murder and are delving into the facts and clues it presents. Unknown to the pair, this is only the tip of the iceberg, a mere scratch on the surface of a deliciously deeper plot that threatens to destroy the country. And who, pray tell, is at the bottom of this darkness and deception? Why, none other than one of our favorite Hollywood villains, Mark Strong (Kick Ass, The Green Lantern, The Young Victoria).
It’s quick, witty and intriguing. Ritchie’s take on the ingenious detective is just as unconventional and unique as the character must have seemed when he was first introduced into the public sphere. And it’s fresh.
If you’ve read the books, then you’ll be happy to see all of the 221B Baker Street regulars, from Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) and Mrs Hudson (Geraldine James), all the way to the infamous Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, Mean Girls, The Notebook, State of Play) – the only woman to outsmart Holmes on more than one occasion. And, if you haven’t, great! You have a whole new cast of characters to simply fall in love with.
Yet it is the character at the centre of the film who makes it so enjoyable. He is disagreeable, intense and indecipherable. But, isn’t that the reason we love him? He’s the only one who could possibly get away with taking cocaine, smoking, and throwing hilarious rejoinders at the head officer of Scotland Yard. Downey Jr succeeds in creating a fresh, complex – if a little anti-social – twist on the character, ably bringing us into the mind of one of the most famous detectives in fiction and film.
To be honest, the bromance between Holmes and Watson deserves a paragraph of its own. At the beginning, Watson is ready to leave the detective life for good and marry Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly, Pride and Prejudice, Me and Orson Welles) who, naturally, is going to bear the brunt of Holmes’ hilarious jealousy. The chemistry between Downey Jr and Law… I simply have to stop in midstream sometimes to take it all in. The comedic banter, one-liners and genuine amiability between the two surpass those of many love interests in actual romantic films.
The writers did take liberties throughout the film – if you’re a hardcore Conan Doyle fan then you’ll have to be patient with the movie, and enjoy it for what it is. The focus on the Holmes/Adler relationship is the most questionable plot device, especially when Adler appears in only one of Conan Doyle’s stories, A Scandal in Bohemia.
However, in saying that, it doesn’t fall into any of the pitfalls that presented problems for many of the reincarnated versions of Mr Holmes – Ritchie nimbly avoided the hackneyed ‘Elementary, my dear Watson,’ and kept Holmes out of the deerstalker and cape. And yet it does contain quotes from and references to the original canon throughout, so Holmes-lovers won’t be disappointed, as long as they’re prepared for a slightly-less-faithful-than-others adaptation.
There’s tension in all the right places, no doubt aided by music legend Hans Zimmer’s (at times) delicate touch. Zimmer composed the entire score for the production. One notable day’s work involved renting 20th Century Fox’s underground car park and beating a piano to pieces.
But don’t worry, the piano still sounds wonderful.
So, what else do you need to know about Sherlock Holmes? Well, it’s certainly rewatchable… so much so, in fact, that it may even require a second viewing just to be sure you gleaned all the important details. And those one-liners alone should be recorded somewhere for posterity. It also has a sequel (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), and a good sequel at that.
But that’s for another day.
So, the next time you’re like I was – tired and slightly bleary-eyed – throw on Sherlock Holmes. Of course, if you’re completely alert and awake, you should throw it on anyway. You might ask, ‘well, after being done and redone, hasn’t Holmes lost his appeal by now? His freshness?’ The short answer is ‘no’. The longer answer is ‘not with Downey Jr and Law involved, anyway’.
Ritchie has molded an eccentric and quirky (yet charming) character who is yet to be matched by any of the heroes of television or film. Arthur Conan Doyle may have created Holmes, but Ritchie (and Downey Jr) most definitely brought him to life.