Thursday, January 14, 2010

“Sherlock Holmes” – Elementary, my dear reader.

Stop making that face. I know it’s cheesy, but I have two good reasons for writing that opener. One, it is the basic theme of this review and two, I couldn’t resist. This movie rounded out my Christmas Trifecta, my wife and I seeing it at 9:00 on Christmas morning. I mention that because it was the only showing that wasn’t packed to the gills with people. When we walked out of the theater (and I mean just the room with the screen), the line of people waiting to get in for the next showing was down the hallway and out the doors. That’ll teach people to go to church on Christmas.

Of the three movies that made up my trifecta, “Sherlock Holmes” was the best (“Avatar” and “Up in the Air” were the others, in case you haven’t been reading). Not only did it have good visuals, it also had a good script and plot and Guy Ritchie (director) deserves credit for keeping things elementary (see?). He didn’t try to do anything fancy with the sets or costumes, choosing to stick with the late 1800’s period in which the original Holmes was set. He also stuck with the basic mystery plot, trying to use things like surprise endings or misdirection. Maintaining the familiarity of the original stories lifted the film from good to great.

That’s not to say that it was a recreation of something you’ve seen on PBS. Ritchie and the screenwriters did refresh Holmes and Dr. Watson to make them more relatable to this generation, as well as making them a little more fun. I don’t want to knock the director or writers (well, at least this time), but I suspect this had more to do with the quality of the actors they cast than with the script. So let’s give a large amount of credit to the folks who cast Robert Downey Jr. (Holmes) and Jude Law (Watson); you are, at minimum, a one-time genius.

It’s hard to say which of them did the better job with their role, but this movie doesn’t work without Downey Jr. He made the character incredibly enjoyable, injecting bits of humor, smugness, ego, intelligence, and roughness. The best part of all was that the director, producers, and writers didn’t allow any of the other characters overshadow him. They made sure that the film remained about Sherlock Holmes, remembering that everyone else is supporting him. Nothing is worse than watching a movie where the main character is not the focus of the movie.

For all of you die-hard Sherlock Holmes fans, the film isn’t just a highlight reel of Downey Jr. As I mentioned before, the story is much like you would find from old Holmes stories, but with a lot more action. You may not like this new aspect of Holmes, because he isn’t the regal, meticulous, calculating sleuth you remember. This incarnation of Holmes is versed in self defense, a terrible slob, and doesn’t quite know when to shut his mouth – yet still maintains elements of that calculating, meticulous nature. While investigating his case, he is constantly getting into fights, closely followed by explosions, all the while picking up on the clues that he needs to solve the case. It’s a perfect blend of action and mystery mixed with extremely likable characters (including the villain). And in case you haven’t seen the film yet and are worried that they have removed Professor Moriarty, you can relax. Without giving away too much, he is not forgotten in this film.

As I read back over what I have written so far, I realize that I am understating how great this film really is. Even though it is formulaic to typical action movies, it is so much better for so many reasons. The main character is flawless, the supporting characters are all important to the story and perfectly performed, the villain is extra creepy and devious and none of his henchmen are ridiculous. And that’s just the characters. The story is fun and engrossing, as is the mystery, the action fits in without overpowering the story, and they even round the story out with Holmes methodically revealing all of the clues that lead to unraveling the mystery, just like any good mystery should. Even “Scooby-Doo” got that part right.

Rating: Do not ask for any money back. This is the best mystery you will see for a long time and best of all, they didn’t rip off the bad guy’s mask and reveal Old Man Withers who owns the haunted amusement park.

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