Apparently tired of being a fringe filmmaker, Guy Ritchie has gone mainstream with Sherlock Holmes. Gone is most of the frenetic editing and bone-crunching violence that marked films like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, where it seemed like Ritchie was trying very, very hard to be awesome. Now he has relaxed and made something for a mass audience, without sacrificing his energy and irreverence.
Ritchie’s Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the legendary sleuth and Jude Law as Dr. Watson, gets back to the basics of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories—Holmes was an amateur boxer and an opium enthusiast—while giving it a modern “bromance” sensibility. With Holmes childishly jealous that Watson is engaged to be married—letting his manners and personal hygiene go to seed—this isn’t your father’s Sherlock Holmes. And yet, it’s quite faithful in its way, too: Victorian London is teeming with life (and lowlifes), and Holmes delights observers with his marvelous powers of deduction, constantly saving Scotland Yard’s bacon.
The story has Holmes being visited by Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), a master criminal and the only woman he ever loved. She gets him and a reluctant Watson involved in a mystery wherein Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), recently hanged for murder, has risen from the grave. Could there be a supernatural explanation this time?
The film’s first half is buoyant and funny, full of witty Holmes-and-Watson dialogue and amusing instances of Holmes being smarter than everyone without exerting any effort. The second half is less entertaining, with more fights—fights are not as interesting as snappy dialogue—and a supremely unsatisfying resolution of the mystery. But the elements are in place for further adventures. There’s potential here, if Ritchie and company can come up with a better story—which really should be elementary.
Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams