Monday, December 28, 2009

The Guy is Afoot! - A Sherlock Holmes Review

As someone who has read a good portion of the Conan Doyle Holmes stories -- and who started reading them 30 years ago -- I'm glad to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Guy Ritchie's new SHERLOCK HOLMES movie, with Robert Downey, Jr. as the master sleuth and Jude Law as an extremely impressive Dr. Watson. I still think the best adaptation of the Holmes stories was the BBC series starring the steely-eyed Jeremy Brett; but Holmes, like Tarzan (another literary Englishman created during the time Holmes stories were originally being released) and Robin Hood, Holmes has become a staple of Western popular culture whom every generation must enact anew. Just as there will likely always be revivals of Shakespeare plays, there will always be reinterpretations of Holmes -- whether he's battling Moriarty, Nazis (as he did in the '40's Basil Rathbone flicks), Jack the Ripper, or the menacing conspirators in this film.

Some may be annoyed by Ritchie's hyper-stylization of reality, or the pumped-up action sequences, or the focus on Holmes's manic-depressive personality (though there's little-to-no mention of Holmes's cocaine habit -- perhaps to avoid a harder rating). Others may grumble about giving Holmes and Watson a cute dog.
Further, the movie features manipulation of lighting and color all too common to modern films. Like old films shot on sound stages, so many of today’s flicks seem to take place in some other reality, with little connection to actual air, light and earth. This is particularly pronounced in the scenes shot around the Thames, in which the (presumably computer generated) tableaux of ships and industry look like a 19th-century black-and-white photo come to life.

But still, this is Holmes. He is woven from threads taken from the actual stories. There are snippets of dialogue from Conan Doyle’s writing, and the fun touches like the “V.R.” shot into the walls of Holmes and Watson’s flat. Further, the movie benefits greatly from taking one of the most memorable supporting characters -- Irene Adler, the American con woman from "A Scandal in Bohemia," who to Holmes will always be the woman -- and building up her role, so that she is an adventuress who stands on equal footing with Holmes and Watson, albeit on the other side of the law. Holmes's Catwoman, if you will.

The costumes will delight anyone looking for 19th-Century inspiration. Whereas most depictions of Holmes and Watson are content with depicting the duo in business wear, with occasional evening clothes and country wear, the costumers here go wild with the mens’ clothes. Watson is a bit of a fashion plate, particularly in a monochrome-indigo tunic he wears to a fancy restaurant. Holmes favors rep-striped ascot cravats, ratty smoking jackets, and a utility belt that should delight steampunk costumers. Adler wears a succession of womens’ costumes that far more suited to action than the skirts and bloomers of the day.

It's always a delight to enjoy a couple of hours of pure cinematic entertainment. SHERLOCK HOLMES shows that there's quite a bit of life in the old sleuth -- enough to fuel reinterpretations for generations to come.

-Danny Barer-

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