Monday, January 11, 2010

Review - Sherlock Holmes

I have been excited about this movie when I first heard they were making it. I was a bit nervous when I heard the casting decisions (I instinctively thought Downey Jr. and Law should have reversed roles…but that was mostly based on physicality and general demeanor). Once I saw the first trailers start coming out, I felt that the casting was done well and I was even more eager to see it. We debated a while about going to see it on Christmas Day…since we couldn't take the kids and Christmas is a day for family. But as the day wound on, we decided that we'd make a run for the theater. The place was packed.

Right from the opening, I was impressed. The imagery was awesome…dark/nighttime shots of cobblestone streets with carriages driving across the city. Shots of a man running through old London mixed among shadow and interesting angles. As we moved inside the buildings, the set work was equally impressive. The subtle music set the tone of mystery and suspense.

When Holmes first appeared, he was an immediate presence and yet still subtle and unassuming. The movie immediately threw us into the action as we followed home to the end of a case and a final confrontation. We first hear Holmes as he analyzes the situation and engages in a fight with a man patrolling the scene. The juxtaposition of intellectual analysis alongside an immobilizing physical fight was done very well. Although Holmes could get physical in the books, I was a bit nervous when the trailer portrayed him being such a man of action and engaging in numerous fights. The way the director presented it was awesome. As Watson and then Lestrade came on the scene to wrap up the pieces of the case, the interaction between the characters was well done and I could feel the camaraderie between Holmes and Watson and the tension between Lestrade and Holmes.

And all of this was before the opening credits. :)

From the trailer, I was aware that there was a woman involved in the movie and various rumors had suggested she was a romantic interest. Early on, we learn that Watson is engaged to be married and I thought perhaps the woman would be his fiancee. But we quickly find that is not the case, which then suggests she must be involved with Holmes. Based on my reading, I knew this must then be Irene Adler (for if it was someone else, there would certainly be an uproar). I admit that I haven't read all the Holmes stories, but based on what I do know of Adler, it would certainly appear that the director/screenwriter took some very distinctive liberties with the character. Generally I felt like they played out well, but the suggested extent of the relation between Holmes and Adler was slightly disconcerting.

As the meat of the plot unraveled, it rapidly became very intriguing and the presentation was rather engaging. Some elements were familiar from other Holmes stories as well as from other stories and movies I've seen (I'm not sure if they were borrowing from Holmes or vice versa). I really enjoyed the way each thread of the mystery played out.

As with any mystery, certain elements were withheld from the audience for the final moment of the reveal. As such, there was no way I could wholly "solve" the mystery to the extent that Holmes did at the end of the film. However, as any good mystery should, I was able to logically put together the pieces and come up with a logical conclusion prior to the ending and with good confidence that I was on the right track.

Once we arrive at the very end of the film, I was slightly disappointed with the way and partnership with which Holmes rushes out to investigate the new crime. I was also grimacing slightly at the mechanism that was the motivation for the new crime he was now chasing down. It makes sense, but just felt a strange stretch. Still, from our modern era looking back on Victorian mystery, it falls in line.

I was also concerned about the general chronology and characterization of two key characters…namely Irene Adler and her 'mysterious employer' (who I almost immediately suspected/knew, but I'll leave that for you to deduce). Again, I haven't read all of the Holmes stories and cannot with certainty identify the situations and motivations of these characters…but some of the liberties taken with them just didn't sit quite right to me.

We're only given a little information that helps us pinpoint exactly where we are in Holmesian lore (certainly a few years after originally meeting Adler…and at a moment when Watson is about to marry and leave Baker Street). Still, with that information, it seems the chronology of the mysterious employer doesn't quite fit, at least to my memory. Nor does it seem right that he and Adler should have any interaction. And yet, based on the ending of the film, it certainly looks as though they're setting up a sequel that will involve them both. It's a minor gripe, especially considering my somewhat limited Holmes knowledge, and I'm confident that I will accept a sequel with open arms, but it was something that nagged at me during the film.

My one other complaint is another minor one and it really only became a distraction during the second viewing (once I was paying attention to items on the periphery). While I felt Robert Downey Jr did a fabulous job portraying the consulting detective, his accent/voice was strained a couple of times. Generally it wasn't a distraction (and certainly not during the first viewing), but as I watched again, there were a couple of moments where the way he pushed through the words just distracted me and reminded me that his voice was an illusion. That said, I'm glad he didn't go for some over-the-top British accent. Holmes was a subtle, distinguished, dignified man. His accent would certainly have been British, but it would not have been extravagant or highly notable. Rather, I'm sure it would have been something that could fall into the background for distanced observation. With that, Downey did great. It was only in a couple of instances where I heard a strain.

While I'm certainly not a Holmes worshipper, nor have I even read all of the books and stories, I have read a good quantity of the stories and watched with pleasure a number of the mysteries presented in TV episodes. I'm definitely not an expert on Holmesian lore and I'm certainly less than knowledgeable about many aspects of his character and life. As such, I am definitely NOT a Holmes purist. From what I hear, most Holmes purists were very skeptical about this rendition. I haven't yet read anything about their reaction now that the film is released, but I'm curious to know what a Holmes purist thinks about this film.

Overall, I absolutely loved this film and am definitely hoping for an extension of the franchise in the presentation of sequels to come. The violence was certainly worthy of a PG-13 rating and younger or sensitive viewers should be duly warned away. The artistic presentation of Victorian London and the excellent screenplay and directorial decisions made for a wonderful experience that I definitely recommend.

5 out of 5 stars


Stacy at The Novel Life said...

I have not seen this movie yet, keep passing it by in blockbuster; but after reading your review I will definitely pick it up next time I'm in there! I'm so glad it's a great movie! I wanted it to be great, but I kept putting it off because if it was a disappointment then I just wasn't ready to face it...crazy, huh?
love your site by the way! the colors are gorgeous! i love antique-ish colors anyway, as you could probably tell from my site. Thanks for stopping by =]

Tales of Whimsy said...

Oooo I can't wait to see this now.