Sherlock Holmes: The game is afoot
Downey, Ritchie and Law go back to the source for a first installation of the brawly, sexy Sherlock Holmes franchise
December 24, 2009
by Melora Koepke
Robert Downey Jr. as a rakish, if troubled, Sherlock Holmes
One exception was the ’70s version of Holmes, brought to life by British author Nicholas Meyer in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (adapted as a film in ’76), which was framed as reminiscences of the sleuth by his loyal sidekick Dr. John Watson. It portrayed Holmes as a cocaine-addicted Freud follower whose fevered attempts at recovery and psychoanalysis were at issue more than his dogged pursuit of a criminal culprit (though there are mentions of his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, as the Napoleon of Crime -more on him later).
Sexing the sleuth
It seems, however, that Conan Doyle is to have the last word after all. Guy Ritchie’s franchise-ready Sherlock Holmes has Holmes as an unstable, cerebral action hero, played by an American: Robert Downey Jr., the thinking woman’s leading man, who’s also become a bankable Hollywood A-lister since his participation in two of last year’s blockbusters, Iron Man and Tropic Thunder.
Downey’s Holmes is hardly a relic of Victoriana – he’s a rakish, pugilistic martial-arts fighter with a fashion sense (no deerstalker) and a nose for danger – just as Conan Doyle intended him. Ritchie, whose laddish, literary Rocknrolla met with mixed reviews, is unabashed about Sherlock Holmes‘s potential for both supernova-ing his career and freshening up the dank Victorian petticoats of his beloved London.
"I wanted to leave small independent films, and this seemed the perfect segue for going from something that was small," says Ritchie, who has repeatedly described Sherlock Holmes as an "intellectual action man." "But I managed to hold on to an English identity and at the same time we had American muscle and American pockets… I wanted to make what they call a four-quadrant movie [a movie that plays to all four major demographic groups] and what they wanted were ‘Guy Ritchie-isms.’ I argued for the studio, and the studio argued on my behalf. It was like two people trying to get to the bar. Both are insisting they should pay… There was no ‘us and them.’"
Richie’s CGI-heavy caper is razor-sharp and fast enough to thrill adrenaline junkies, but is it smart enough to keep everyone else entertained? The script is loyal to Conan Doyle’s characterizations, almost to a fault (why does Holmes shoot bullets in the shape of VR into his wall? Is he commemorating Victoria Regina?), and portrays Holmes as a depressive man’s man with an extensive apothecary who does, indeed, champion logic over all. Except when it comes to his overclose friendship with his wingman Watson, who, contrary to type, is here played as a blue-eyed war vet/degenerate gambler by Jude Law.
As far as the mystery goes, it’s a little over the top. Though Moriarty and Holmes’ lady nemesis Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) make appearances, it’s mostly the Holmes and Watson show, with a central plot that’s a bit too Da Vinci Code to be taken seriously, involving a shadowy Aleister Crowley-like villain (Ritchie regular Mark Strong) who appears to possess death-giving powers that transcend the grave.
Still, though, Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes showcases the sleuth and his fair city as movies rarely have: The action zooms on with Ritchie’s signature jump-cuts and speed-varied action sequences (including an intense, not soon forgotten set-piece of Holmes in the boxing ring, dislocating a jaw in slow-mo) and a fantastic denouement amid the rafters of a half-built London Bridge. But the film really belongs to Downey, a brown-eyed strapping man in tweed and Beatles sunglasses who, it must be said, does sex up the sleuth.
Sleuthing around: Downey as Holmes
Though he famously threw the blow into the ocean in 2005 and has been clean since, Downey’s bad-boy charisma, and reputation as an obsessive-compulsive thinker (Ritchie says he "can’t keep up with him") casts him as an interesting, flawed Holmes – the kind we’d want to watch. Certainly, Downey’s demons have hounded him publicly like Baskerville dogs, none more so than at a press day in London at the Freemasons’ Hall, the location of Sherlock Holmes’s opening sequence.
"How did you reinvent your characters for this movie?" came the first question. "Robert, this movie has none of ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution‘ – was that your input not to be part of something that glamorized cocaine use?"
Downey, looking a bit stunned by the question, gave the assembly an "it’s on" kind of shrug.
"I loved The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, [though] it was never a high enough percentage for me," he says. "Kind of a weak, tepid solution. This is a PG-13 movie and even if it wasn’t, the idea is, if you go back to the source material, [Holmes is] never described as being some strung-out weirdo. Also, back in Victorian times, it was absolutely legal, acceptable. You could go down to your corner pharmacist and grab all that stuff, so we thought it would be irresponsible to not make reference to it and, so again, I think a lot of the flaming hoops we had to jump through doing Sherlock were: How do you take what comes from the source material and how do you amend it so that it’s accessible, and how do you not whitewash it?"
Beside him, Jude Law, who plays Watson as a comparably flawed character, describes the process as a rediscovery of the books he loved as a child.
"When I was asked to get involved, Robert was already set as Sherlock and Guy was directing," says Law. "I knew from then that it was going to be a different take on the older films. It fascinated me and obviously they were coming to me not to put on two stone and fall around, put my foot in waste paper baskets, but they were going to ask me to play Watson with a bit more edge."
Law, coincidentally, had played a stable boy in a TV version of Sherlock Holmes – it was his second acting role. Here, he plays Holmes’ central companion in a story that’s essentially a bromance for two confirmed 40-ish bachelors in a time when life expectancy wasn’t very high.
"It’s so funny to me, because usually I’m used to [media] saying, ‘Well you and so and so, this female, had this great chemistry,’ and now they’re talking about Jude and I like we should be doing romantic comedies together," says Downey. "But this film is not a comedy and it’s a love affair of sorts. It’s about what it’s about, but I think Holmes and Watson are aspects of all of us. I think that we knew when to yin and yang back and forth and we were just a good team, you know?"
Downey, whose British accent Ritchie called "almost perfect," had once before met with a great career moment in the U.K., when he played the title role in Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin, which earned him an Oscar nomination. But Holmes is the literary avatar to all manner of obsessive fandom, as evidenced by a night-before-screening visit to a London pub called the Sherlock Holmes, which contained, in an upstairs room, a detailed shrine to the detective.
The onus is on Downey now to be smart, tough, sexy and charismatic enough to pull off the sleuth of sleuths while also proving a match for the recondite amateurs of all things Holmesian and for the shadowy figure of Moriarty, his nemesis, who is only hinted at in this first installation (rumour has it that the role may be played by Brad Pitt.) But Downey, true to form, is cavalier about the pressures of the role, and of his newfound identity as box-office ironman and all-around centre of attention.
"Scared? I don’t get scared anymore," he says. "I just get busy."
by David St Pierre - December 25, 2009, 3:48 pm Well, it’s high time that someone revisited Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s intrepid detective and who better than Guy Ritchie to inject some much-needed grit and grime into the previously sanctimonious and stuffy person of Sherlock Holmes. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the character is embodied by Robert Downey Jr. who brings a thoughtful and roguish charm to the role and that they’ve re-framed Watson as an edgy, equally well-rounded (make that flawed) side-kick – less bumbling than previous incarnations and more a foil to Holmes than his steadying moral compass – played with suitable aplomb by Jude Law. If anything, looks like the gang have laid the foundation for the makings of a very promising franchise – if this is Ritchie gone mainstream, well, selling out never looking or felt so good!
Reply Permalink Report by Pedro Eggers - December 27, 2009, 5:40 pm Guy Ritchie can spin it however he likes it but to the infinite masses Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal hero will always that intellectual fellow in the deerstalker and tweed cloak. Perhaps it is many generations worth of misperception of who Sherlock Holmes is but the damage is done. The character is now the sum of every artistic representation of him from Basil Rathbone to Jeremy Brett. That Ritchie felt the need to peel back the layers and go back to a more edgy incarnation makes sense–there’s no way in hell that he could have confected a rough an tumble victorian action movie with the traditional takes of Holmes and Watson.
~ As a Sherlock Holmes story this isn’t so much one but as a bromance action comedy Guy Ritchie is on fire. The antiquated and dirty version of London is the ideal setting for his newly minted dysfuntional dynamic duo to romp through while trying to foil a mad plot to take over the world. As Guy Ritchie movies go this one is one bitchin’ joyride with some really great moments. If you’re a purist this version of Holmes and Watson won’t dislodge your personal biases of what ought to be but you also won’t be able to deny the obvious fact that this new version is refreshingly fun. You will like it despite yourself. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are easily this decade’s Lethal Weapon duo to beat if this franchise plays its cards right. Forget everything you’ve ever known and just embrace the madness of Guy Ritchie’s vision. Yup, he’s definitely got his mojo back.
Reply Permalink Report by Vicky Parisella - December 29, 2009, 4:16 pm Guy Ritchie(Snatch–one of my favorite crime thriller film)is back with his latest film,Sherlock Holmes,his interpretation of the legendary detective. The movie version is not like any books I have read or any movies I have seen,but it is a first-rate production that entertained me right from the beginning opening scene. There is mystery,humour,fast-paced eye-popping action scenes that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the film:Fight in the shipyard, especially those with the French giant, explosions scenes, bridge and boat scene, martial arts scenes,etc. The scenes with the bulldog were hilariously funny!
This entertaining thriller will not disappoint due to the impeccable cast: the excellent performance of Robert Downing Jr. who brings the legendary Sherlock Holmes to life( skillful boxer,martial arts expert, master of disguise,etc) –Oscar buzz for his brilliant performance. Together with Jude Law(Watson) there is great chemistry,as seen with the clever dialogue between Holmes and Watson.
Music: soundtrack by Hans Zimer–Excellent! Visually: Terrific—costumes—set designs–location(London)
For action blockbuster fans-this is a must see,but do read the book to discover the real Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
A worthwhile film to see!
Reply Permalink Report by Mark St Pierre - January 1, 2010, 10:38 am Hey, the poster says it all. Look at those poses – the sly, sexy mischievous smile on Robert downy Jr.s face and the imposing comportment of Jude Law. This definitely ain’t your parents’ Sherlock Holmes and what else would you expect from Guy Ritchie? Sure this is his big stab at the mainstream and while he may have smoothed some of his more distinctly Ritchie-esque jagged edges, I’m elated to say that this is a far more muscular and edgy reframing of London’s most famous fictional detective than we’ve ever seen before on either the big or small screen.
Reply Permalink Report by Reuven De Souza - January 29, 2010, 1:26 pm There is alot to like within the revamp of the beloved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gallery of characters. Like the reverence paid to details like the morose Sherlock Holmes and his deep knowledge of the scincesw, mastery of disguise and his bag of tricks of alchemy. His keenly oservations that provide insight into the people he encounters. The four (!!) credited screenwriters do a decent job of juxtaposing the tale within a modern construct. However, they fail to ever establich the secondary characters in Watson, his love Irene or the nemesis of blackwood. These faults may have been forgiven had the titular character been anything more that a two dimensional constuct without any depth. A shame. Given the this screenplay that is more obsessed with the machinations of deception rather that character development, director Guy Ritchie is given free reign to pursue his love of Style Over Substance. The film is well directed despite Mr. Ritchie’s penchant for overblown camera movements. His visual flair often overshadows the thin screenplay with its distracting and unnecessary cues. His pacing of the film is abysmal while his handing of the nuances are nowhere to be seen. The film, though, still has a lot going for it. The beautiful cinematography of the great Phillippe Rousselot ( A River Runs Through It ) and some simply astinoshing production design that seemlessly recreates London in the 1800's. The special effects are, at times, breathtaking, in their attention to detail. The cast is uniformly good despite the lack of a strong script. Rachel McAdams is a feisty Irene Adler, Mark Strong ( so very good in Body Of Lies ) is atypically good as is Jude Law. Robert Downey’s showcase performance as the depressed Holmes is a singularly excellent one given the lack of much script depth. The film is an overlong mess at times yet deserves to be seen for its energy and bravura. Not a great or even a good film..but a solid misfire.