Sherlock Holmes (2009)
by Del Harvey
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With 2009’s updating of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective, Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie shows he has matured into an A-list director. While his early features were the stuff of auteur genius (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch), more recent efforts revealed the artist struggling with his craft. His more recent Revolver passed under the radar, unfortunately, for it was a most enjoyable film which showed off some of Ritchie’s development as a director capable of handling more than simple genre pieces.
The big budget Sherlock Holmes is a blockbuster which succeeds in breathing new life into a legendary character while simultaneously thrusting the milieu into the hearts and minds of contemporary audiences with the director’s own style and vision firmly intact. In so doing he has cemented his place on the A-list as well as giving us yet another variation on this most durable of character franchises.
Many have turned up their noses at Ritchie’s presentation of Holmes and Watson, calling them abominations of the original. But for any reader of Conan Doyle’s books will know that Holmes studied many “mystic arts,” including various martial arts, and this more intelligent fighting style served him well in certain adventures. Also, Watson was often described as a war veteran and his tales of past exploits were legendary around London’s gentleman’s clubs. Keeping these elements of the original literary version in mind we can see how Ritchie played a bit loose in his adaptation, but by no means did he try to re-craft the original.
Mark Strong, a favorite of Ritchie’s, is wonderfully vile as the evil Blackwood. Rachel McAdams is lethal and lovely as Irene Adler. Eddie Marsan is the perfect Lestrade. Jude Law is an inspired choice as Dr. John Watson. And Robert Downey, Jr. shows off his estimable skills as the erudite and quirky Holmes.
In this film, we find Sherlock Holmes a detective who has made his reputation finding the truth at the heart of the most complex mysteries. With the aid of Dr. John Watson, his trusted ally, the renowned “consulting detective” is unequaled in his pursuit of criminals of every stripe, whether relying on his singular powers of observation, his remarkable deductive skills, or the blunt force of his fists.
But now a storm is gathering over London, a threat unlike anything that Holmes has ever confronted…and just the challenge he’s looking for.
After a string of brutal, ritualistic murders, Holmes and Watson arrive just in time to save the latest victim and uncover the killer: the unrepentant Lord Blackwood. As he approaches his scheduled hanging, Blackwood—who has terrorized inmates and jailers alike with his seeming connection to dark and powerful forces—warns Holmes that death has no power over him and, in fact, his execution plays right into Blackwood’s plans.
And when, by all indications, Blackwood makes good on his promise, his apparent resurrection panics London and confounds Scotland Yard. But to Holmes, the game is afoot.
Racing to stop Blackwood’s deadly plot, Holmes and Watson plunge into a world of the dark arts and startling new technologies, where logic is sometimes the best crime-fighting weapon… but where a good right hook will often do the job.
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Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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