Sherlock Holmes

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Holding that every generation needs its own version of Sherlock Holmes, one of the most popular literary and cinematic figures, Guy Ritchie reimagines Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brilliant detective as a fast-moving action hero. To that extent, the ever-versatile Robert Downey Jr. is well cast, adding another layer to his multi-faceted talent. A highly intelligent, edgy, and vigorous actor, Downey Jr. interprets the famous sleuth as an intellectual superhero who relies as much on his brawn as on his brain.

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After almost a decade of making mediocre or bad movies, Guy Ritchie is back on terra ferma with a  lightly amusing,  briskly entertaining, if also superficial, movie that may launch another successful franchise for Warner; the ending of this film leaves the door open for another chapter.

The screenplay, penned by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg, is based on a story by Lionel Wigram and Michael Robert Johnson. Kinnberg is known for the popular actioner "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," and Peckham is currently represented with his scenario for Clint Eastwood's "Invictus." 
Doyle's purists and loyalist to the notion that, as a quintessentially British character, Sherlock Homes should be played by a British actor may have qualms with this Americanized interpretation. I grew up watching on TV the great Basil Rathbone embodying the private eye in at least a dozen films. But Ritchie is not the first to give the character and tale a Hollywood spin. Back in 1985, Barry Levinson made "The Young Sherlock Holmes," which many people liked, centering on the heroes' youth in boarding school. 
For those who need a reminder, the character was created in the late 19th century, in a series of 56 short stories and four novels by Arthur Conan Doyle. As a result, the sharp, eccentric detective has become one of pop culture's most enduring icons whose adventures are still widely read and seen. (I fondly recall showing a Sherlock Holmes film to high-schoolers, when one student asked in earnest if the character was represented real person).
As a detective, Sherlock Holmes became known for his gifts of seeing beyond the obvious, of discerning the truth by quickly detecting deception and fraud.  In the new film, the detective is blessed with many different skills. In addition to playing the violin, he is a martial artist, a boxer, an expert single stick fighter, and even a swordsman. But he's also driven by a strong, inner moral code, which shapes his personal and professional conduct.
Following in the footsteps of other franchises, which recently have been rebooted, this "Sherlock Holmes" goes back to the character's roots, depicting his origins as a visceral man, smart but not pretentious, rational but also relying on instinctive, streetsmart knowledge. The renowned "consulting detective" is unmatched in pursuing criminals of every kind. He has developed a reputation for relying on his singular observational powers and deductive skills in unraveling the most complex mysteries,  not to mention his forceful fists.
While Sherlock Holmes is at the center (appearing in almost every scene), the movie unfolds as male camaraderie tale (with some homoerotic overtones) between our indefatigable hero and his trusted ally, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law, in top form). 
After a series of brutal ritualistic murders, Holmes and Watson arrive just in time to save the latest victim and uncover the killer, the unrepentant Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). As he approaches his scheduled hanging, Blackwood, who has been terrorizing inmates and jailers with his connection to dark and powerful forces, warns Holmes that death has no power over him, that his execution will become part of his grand diabolical plan.
When Blackwood acts on his premise, his "resurrection" throws the entire city of London into chaos and panic, confounding even the estimable Scotland Yard. While admitting that the case represents an unusual challenge, Holmes doesn't lose his coolness.  Racing to stop Blackwood's deadly plot, Holmes and Watson plunge into a new world defined by startlingly innovative technologies and arts. Revealing fighting skills as powerful as his intellect, Holmes employs his unique methods while risking his life, traveling to places few men would go.  Time may be running out: Longtime peer Watson, who helps Holmes, soon might settle into marriage and a more stable domestic life.
Complicating matters is Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), an alluring American femme who might be more dangerous and mysterious than Holmes is willing to admit. Intrigued (to say the least) with the temperamental woman, Holmes embarks on a tempestuous relationship, which unfortunately, accounts for some of the film's weakest scenes.
At first sight, Downey Jr., the action hero of the mega hit "Iron Man," looks a bit strange, sporting unruly hair and beard, but he fits into the filmmakers' conception of Holmes as a fast-talking, faster-moving manic-depressive.  Jude Law has always been adept at delivering sharp, witty dialogue and here he makes good on his talent.  There's strong chemistry between Downey Jr. and Law, stronger in fact than that prevailing between either man and his respective love interest.
Indeed, the women in the cast are rather pale, perhaps because they don't have much to do. But the rest of the supporting cast is good, especially Mark Strong as Blackwood, the practitioner of black magic whose intellect and merciless ambition make him a formidable adversary, and Eddie Marsan ("Happy Go-Lucky") as Scotland Yard's Lestrade, an inspector at once impressed, frustrated, and threatened by Holmes.
Authenticity or coherence may not be among this film's attributes. In both narrative and technical strategies, "Sherlock Holmes" tries to have it both ways, as a period piece and as current comedy adventure–to mixed results. On the one hand, Ritchie grounds his costume adventure in a particular historical era, London of the 1890s, but the characters often speak and behave in contemporary (or a-historical) ways.
I am partial to the old British films and so find this modern take entertaining but not particularly deep in ideas or witty in dialogue.  But, let's not forget that this is after all a mega-production of $100 million, overseen by action maestro Joel Silver, and made with an eye on the global mass market. 
Helmer Ritchie displays his proven skills with action and moves the story quickly from one set to another with the help of editor James Herbert. The fighting scenes bring to mind Ritchie's earlier movies, as well as David Fincher's "The Fight Club."  Visually, ace lenser Philip Rousselot and production designer Sarah Greenberg create an industrial London at the turn of the century that's grim and filthy, with every set piece busily crammed with physical objects and other details.
End Note
There were at least two American movies about the famous sleuth in the 1970s.  In 1970, Billy Wilder made "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes," one of his very last and least satisfying films. In 1976, Herbert Ross directed "The Seven Per-Cent Solution," one his best pictures with a terrific ensemble headed by Nicol Williamson as Holmes, Robert Duvall as Dr, Watson, and Laurence Olivier.  Ross' movie received two Oscar nominations: Adapted Screenplay for Nicholas Meyer and Costume Design for Alan Barrett.
Cast
Sherlock Holmes – Robert Downey Jr.
Dr. John Watson – Jude Law
Irene Adler – Rachel McAdams
Lord Blackwood – Mark Strong
Inspector Lestrade – Eddie Marsan
Mary Morstan – Kelly Reilly
Sir Thomas Rotheram – James Fox
Lord Coward – Hans Matheson
Mrs. Hudson – Geraldine James
Credits
A Warner release presented in association with Village Roadshow Pictures of a Silver Pictures and Wigram production.
Produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey, Dan Lin.
Executive producers, Michael Tadross, Bruce Berman.
Co-producer, Steve Clark-Hall.
Directed by Guy Ritchie.
Screenplay, Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg; screen story, Lionel Wigram, Johnson; Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson created by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Camera, Philippe Rousselot.
Editor, James Herbert.
Music, Hans Zimmer.
Production designer, Sarah Greenwood.
Supervising art director, Niall Moroney.
Art directors, James Foster, Nick Gottschalk, Matt Gray.
Set decorator, Katie Spencer.
Costume designer, Jenny Beavan.
Sound, Chris Munro; supervising sound editor, James Mather; sound designer, Michael Fentum; re-recording mixers, Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill; visual effects supervisor, Chas Jarrett; visual effects, Double Negative, Framestore, Prologue Films.
Special effects supervisor, Mark Holt; stunt coordinators, Franklin Henson, Frank Ferrara; fight coordinator, Richard R. Ryan; associate producers, Lauren Meek, Peter Eskelsen; assistant director, Max Keene; second unit director, Paul Jennings; second unit camera, Alan Stewart; casting, Reg Poerscout-Edgerton.
MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 127 Minutes.