December 30, 2009

Sherlock Holmes (a review)

Let me be the first to say that I did not expect to like this movie. I expected to sit through it, see pretty steam-punk pictures of “Victorian London”, and cry a little inside at the perversion of some of my all-time favorite characters of literature. I even had the opening line of this post written in my head, “Holmes,” I would lament, “What have they done to you?”.

Despite my initial misgivings, and despite myself, I actually immensely enjoyed this film. I thought all the notes which required playing were hit impeccably; neither hammered too forcefully nor touched so lightly as not to be heard. The movie was enjoyable to both myself (an admitted literati-snob and hard sell on revisions such as this) and my father (an avid enjoyer of mister Holmes but certainly not a literature scholar and also partial to bad action flicks). Crossing demographics, it was a film to please both the oxford-shirt-and-sweater-vest novel-touters and the average “this movie looks awesome” Saturday-afternoon action buffs.

Let’s start with my one little gripe before I continue to rave about this movie. In addition to our dynamic duo, Irene Adler is added to the fray as an on-again off-again member of the team. She spends the movie wrestling with her own wistful romantic feelings for Holmes as she kicks butt and takes names along with the boys. Now trust me, I do love a good female action hero. But to me, chicks don’t belong in Holmes’ universe. The notorious woman-hater should not be pining for a pretty face when he has a case to solve, even if the object of his affection is, as Watson puts it, “the woman”. I know that in Conan Doyle’s mythology Adler was the only woman who ever found a way into Holmes’ heart and indeed managed to best him at some point, but I really always pictured their relationship with more rough edges than soft spots. This film is a study in the soft spots.

In short, she was cool, but I really didn’t need to see that.

Now onto the fantastic stuff:

The Holmes/Watson relationship was NAILED. There are some critics who will say “first we have gay hobbits, now we have gay Victorian Super Heroes. WTF Hollywood?”. Honestly, though I can see the homosexual under (and sometimes over) tones, they didn’t bother me. They’re there from the literature, people. Holmes and Watson are the Victorian Batman and Robin. They come as a packaged set. What, since two men are more like brothers than friends they automatically have to be sleeping together? They care for each other, true, but for years they were their own support network. Holmes cannot exist without Watson, no more can Watson exist without Holmes. It is only natural that a third party in this equation (in this case Mary) would bring tension between the dynamic duo. To me, whether you see this relationship as “gay” or “bromantic”, it really doesn’t matter. Either way, they love and support one another, and the movie nailed this.

Holmes’ character was spot on. When I first heard that Robert Downey Junior was going to be playing our dear detective, my thoughts immediately soured. He’s too young and good-looking, not dynamic enough, and would reduce the genius into a mere action hero. I could not have been more mistaken. Through a combination of the actor’s performance and the filmmaker’s creativity, I bought this character hook, line and sinker. A few particularly spectacular elements were the CSI-esque slow-mo explanations of Holmes’ thought processes, the priceless portrayal of Holmes’ quirky detective techniques, and the sense of profound loneliness that true brilliance incurs. This Holmes was very clearly a beautiful disaster, if an eccentric genius.

Jude Law’s Watson was also a pleasant surprise. He was made, in the film, into much more of a comrade to Holmes than sidekick. Able to hold his own in any fight, and more importantly pick up the pieces when Holmes dropped them, Watson was certainly not Conan Doyle’s lapdoggy Doctor. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the classical Watson, but Law’s had more gravitas. He was more of an equal to Holmes, if not in deductive reasoning than in practical experience. He and Holmes seemed to go together- I understood why Holmes would want and indeed require this Watson around.

Now I’m not saying the plot of this movie was “classic entertainment”, nor am I implying that the writers wrote Holmes better than Conan Doyle, but they did manage to modernize our beloved series while maintaining its integrity. In classic Holmesian style, this was a universe ruled by the laws of science rather than magic (no matter how it would otherwise appear). In the end, it was logic and reason that solved the mystery not wand-waving and incantations of power.

Small touches truly made the film rest in Conan Doyle’s story. The picture of Adler Holmes had in his study, the inclusion of Holmes’ famed disguises and skill as an actor, Holmes’ use of his violin all led to a believable and inclusive image of the famed detective. The one thing I did miss from the movie was Holmes’ opium addiction, though I do believe his addictive personality and reliance upon substances to free him from the prison of his own intellect was made entirely clear.

If you can forgive the villain a silly reason for his hostile take-over plan and Holmes’ monologuing at the end (but really, Holmes was born to monologue), the movie really delivered.

Oh and the faux-antique-pencil-sketch-still-frames during the credits are really nifty too.

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