Friday, 15 January 2010

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

* * *

(2009, Dir. Guy Ritchie)

Lord Henry Blackwood (Mark Strong) is sentenced to death by hanging, after Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) thwart his human sacrifice ritual. When he is visited by Holmes in prison, Blackwood prophesies three further deaths which will change the world. Despite Dr. Watson pursuing new business and romantic paths, a bored Holmes and his faithful sidekick soon find themselves back in the fray, trying to uncover the mystery behind Blackwood's apparent resurrection, continuous homicide, and plan to take control of the British Empire.

Robert Downey Jr. operates with the charm, sharp wit and physical dynamism we have become accustomed to in his recent performances (Iron Man, Tropic Thunder), fulfilling Guy Ritchie's ideal of a cool and accessible Holmes who is dangerous with sword and fist; "a fresh take (on Holmes)", the director explains. Arguably the best action-sequence in the movie sees Holmes in a boxing ring, in what feels like a scene out of Fight Club. Here he maximises both his fierce intelligence and martial prowess to narrate and demonstrate how to see off your opponent, while the audio provides that stange attribute unique to the silverscreen - the percussion of each hook, jab and injury so drawn out and clear that violence can become a paradoxically sickening and aesthetic thing. Holmes's friendship with Dr. Watson (a typically meritorious Jude Law) is macho and yet borders on the homoerotic - a two-hour metaphorical bloke-hug - providing the audience with patriotic humour and a great deal of anticipation. Meanwhile Mark Strong is tremendous in his role as the criminal mastermind, Blackwood. His malevolence and insanity are so skillfully transported that the acting is undetectable, and even triggers a memory of watching Marlon Brando's cameo in Apocalypse Now for the very first time. Unfortunately these tiptop performances are offset by female leads, Kelly Reilly (Mary Morstan) and Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who contribute nothing particularly sexy or inciteful to the action.

Joel Silver's production is hyperbolic, if not ridiculous. Beyond the above-mentioned fist fight, Sherlock Holmes is, in a way, a trailer of itself, stockpiled with a racing and incessant, Hollywood cacophony that balloons, as opposed to italicises, some very watchable action-sequences and impressive dialogue. When Blackwood is behind bars, the propensity for over-production shows itself through an irritating echoing of voices and a quirky display of black magic that hearkens more to a Channel 5 documentary on some esoteric cult than to a Conan Doyle adaptation demanding acclaim. In this sense, Sherlock Holmes takes on the reigns of Ritchie and Silver's previous, capitulatory teamwork (RocknRolla: ouch). But even a penchant for exhausted gangland fantasy cannot spoil what is an enjoyable day out at the cinema and an appropriately British yarn for our Boxing Day release.

So bring on Sherlock Holmes 2, which - according to rumours sparked by a Guy Ritchie interview by UGO's Matt Patches - could feature Brad Pitt as Professor Moriarty.

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