Sherlock Holmes opens Christmas Day

Throughout the literary world, there is no finer, well-known detective as Sherlock Holmes. From the landscape of the text to our lips, common household phrases and popular culture have been shaped by the adventures and techniques of this misunderstood magnet for murder. Along with his partner and friend, Watson, criminals and mastermind plans have been halted in four novels, some 50+ short stories, several television programs and more than a dozen films. Needless to say, since 1887, readers have been hooked on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creation.

So with a history like that, what possibly could Hollywood add to the mythos?

Well actually, a lot depending on how you look at it.

Directed by Guy Ritchie (of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch” and “RocknRolla”), “Sherlock Holmes” brings the classic land of industrial England to life in all its disgusting, smelly, rain-washed glory. With a cast so impressive that you can barely take your eyes away from the screen, this movie delivers on almost all fronts. Almost.

The story is simple and effective. Holmes starts a case against a very devious bad guy – this being the seemingly supernatural Lord Blackwood. Something big happens and the match of logic versus witchcraft begins. Somewhere in the middle, a past love comes into play, hilarity ensues, maybe some backstabbing and possibly the complete destruction of England, as we know it. In a nutshell that’s it. But, man, was it fun.

Lead by the half-chameleon/half-human, all awesome, Robert Downey Jr. and co-starring Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and the very formidable Mark Strong, “Sherlock Holmes” is a very fun ride at the theater this holiday season. As the title character, Downey Jr. is excellent. Seamlessly, he steps into the role and truly embraces the nuances that help make the character a success. One of the things I really appreciate in his approach is the socially inept behavior that genius brings. Holmes is a jerk; an almost filter-less human being who seeks only the best challenges and when without them, allows himself to fall into depravity and loneliness. Rounding him out luckily is his dear friend Dr. John Watson, played very conservatively by Law. While very deserving of the limelight himself, Law spars verbally with Downey Jr. very well and above all is able to stay important and balanced in the overall story. Neither of these characters is above their flaws and that’s what makes them wonderful. Whether it’s gambling, drugs, boxing (which, interestingly enough, Holmes was an accomplished bare-knuckle brawler) or the case, these guys are just like you and me – a slave to their vices.

Of course, the acting is not the only good aspect. Throughout the years, Ritchie has grown very well from his indy roots and here, it is easy to tell that he is very comfortable behind the lens. While still using a few of his quick-cut and slow-motion techniques, Ritchie is able to rein them in a little and truly use them to help keep the story moving forward (or backwards depending on the scene) rather than just making something look cool. At the same time, London of old has never looked better. The production, art and costume designers all deserve a big round of applause, as does Hans Zimmer for delivering another beautifully original score.

Where the movie seems to veer a little is in the delivery of the third act and possibly the presentation of the villain. Establishing itself early as a solid detective movie, it was hard to see the film go down the “race-against-time” kind of scenario. While still engaging and entertaining, it almost felt a little too heavy handed for the detail oriented adventures of Holmes and company. Especially when one considers how the story really ends and what it can mean for future tales of the detective. (Not a spoiler, I’m just saying.) In terms of villainy, like I said above, Mark Strong is very formidable as the evil Lord Blackwood and in everything I have seen recently with him in it, I have been very impressed. However, here he comes off a little too much like the sneering Dick Dastardly from the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Every line is delivered with that upper lip kind of evilness and by the end, it’s just kind of funny. I mean, I know the dude needs to keep his sorcerer persona going on, but perhaps a little less quiver in the labium superius would have helped him become less than a foil and more a true adversary.

Overall, this film can easily be described as the lay-version of Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps “elementary” to share a line. While not as heady as it could have been, I feel, especially after doing my own rounds of research on the rich lifestyle choices of Holmes, that Ritchie has done very well telling the detective’s story. A solid cast, good film direction and an excellent score will make “Sherlock Holmes” a great fit into your hectic holiday schedule.

3.5 out of 5 Smoking Pipes

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