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Sherlock Holmes
Genre Mystery
Year: 2009
 
Review:

What comes to mind when you hear the name Sherlock Holmes? The character has been around since the late 1800s when Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle conjured up a man, who could draw big conclusions from small details. A London-based detective, whose sharp intellect and keen eye could keep him in-the-know, without having to rely on any explosive MacGyver or trigger-happy Rambo skills.

Well, wipe the slate clean, because the enigmatic Robert Downey Jr. has come to town with the wrong hat and without a magnifying glass. It's like James Bond meets Harry Potter, taking a well-respected old school British character and updating the entertainment appeal for a 2000s audience. Downey Jr. defied all prerelease speculation when he took on the role of Tony Stark in Iron Man and now the man thinks he's invincible.

The cunning Detective Sherlock Holmes (Downey Jr.) and his indomitable partner, Watson (Law) lock horns with Lord Blackwood, an evil nemesis and master of the dark arts, who poses a threat to all of London after he comes back from beyond the grave to seize power. It's the sort of plot you'd expect from Inspector Gadget, but hey... The Hound of the Baskervilles has been done already and you're barking up the wrong tree if you're expecting anything other than a whiff of intellect in a Guy Ritchie movie.  

Sherlock Holmes has Robert Downey Jr., a grim London and Lord Blackwood.. that's it! Downey Jr.'s performance is solid and he owns the new Sherlock character, despite the loss of the romantic British notion of the detective. The script teases the Holmes-Watson relationship with allusions to a homosexual love interest, as Holmes tries to persuade Watson to marry the right woman and continue their case work, a few shades shy of a Paul Rudd "bromance".

The dark, filthy and moody London casts back to The Prestige and Sweeney Todd, creating the perfect setting for a mystery adventure. While most backgrounds are presumably CGI, the scenery gives Sherlock Holmes a gritty, dirty-fingernails authenticity. Then there's the venomous Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong, who does an excellent job of portraying the villain, an evil conjurer, hellbent on revenge and quite keen on world domination too.

The fuel in this fire is the interplay between Holmes and Blackwood, while Watson is sidelined as a sort of "wing man". Sherlock Holmes isn't a "buddy movie" and Law's performance is understated, making room for Robert Downey Jr. to star. Rachel McAdams co-stars as the cheeky femme fatale/love interest and Eddie Marsan features in a rather low-key role as Inspector Lestrade.

Blackwood is like something from a Harry Potter movie. In fact, the new Sherlock Holmes under Guy Ritchie has been strongly influenced by Potter when it comes to the setting, the trio of protagonists and the dark arts. Robert Downey Jr. takes the place of Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter, Jude Law replaces Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasly and Rachel McAdams fills in for Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger. It's a classic trio convention thanks to the success of J.K.Rowling's books and film adaptations over the years.

The dark arts are far more sinister than Harry Potter... well, at least the first one, and has Sherlock delving into the secret underground syndicates associated with Masonry. His investigation sees him brushing shoulders with thugs, evil lodge masters and their cronies - even practicing some of their rituals to tap into the mystery of Lord Blackwood's disappearance. The drama behind his sly wordplay, observation skills and cunning sniffer dog sense of justice is overshadowed by blistering action set pieces with the odd witty quip thrown in to remind us this is Holmes.

Ritchie's stylistic conventions don't have the same flow or flavour as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch or RocknRolla. While the film rattles the genre with a similar spin to A Knight's Tale, Ritchie seems restrained, unable to fire on all cylinders. The film races along at a good pace as Sherlock and his sidekicks wrestle free from all sorts of prickly situations, only to land themselves even further down the rabbit hole. Sherlock Holmes is an action mystery adventure that values Hollywood blockbuster over cult fiasco, thinking that goes against the Ritchie grain.

There are elements to Sherlock Holmes that seem a little forced, a little rushed and a little over-the-top, but if you aren't too critical of the story or character adaptations, it works well as a lightweight mystery adventure and good-looking piece of escapism with a solid cast and high production values.

The bottom line: Brisk.

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