One of the most enduring characters from the pages of literary work just has to be Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote many an absorbing novel about the Victorian consulting detective who resided at 221b Baker Street and his sidekick Dr Watson. Over the years, many a famous actor has portrayed him - Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing (my favourite), Jeremy Brett on TV and now we have a freshly reimagined Holmes in the form of Robert Downey Jr. with Jude Law tagging along as Watson.
It's Holmes - but not as we know him!
In previous incarnations the Sherlock Holmes character has been an intellectual with a razor sharp mind and a pension for a bit of violin music on the side. The new Holmes, brought to us by director Guy Ritchie is more a man of action but still a real whiz at deduction and he seems to have gained a sense of humour too.
Now while the purists may throw up their arms in horror (they're always doing that, those purists) the rest of us who like to be entertained in a more all round manner are happy to embrace it.
This new version will probably introduce more people to the character and the books than ever before.
So what's the story in the new movie then?
It opens with Holmes and Watson carrying out an all action raid upon a black magic ceremony presided over by the evil looking Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Naturally Inspector Lestrade is a bit late in arriving with the boys in blue, so it's up to Sherl & Wats to save the nubile young lady from human sacrifice and take Blackwood by force. Blackwood is tried and hanged for his crimes so surely we can relax.
Or can we? Just when you thought it was safe..... he is risen from the dead! Tah, Tah Tahhhh! Various people associated with Blackwood start to face an early demise and Holmes is called in by Scotland Yard to investigate. Where can it all be leading? Is Blackwood really a master of the black arts? Will Holmes work it all out in time?
Well folks, you're going to have to watch the Blu-ray to find out as I'm not going to spoil an awful lot of fun by telling you.
Robert Downey Jr is excellent as Holmes. He not only has a credible physique for the fist fights but his comic timing is also superb. To allay boredom in his 'resting' periods Holmes does such things as attempt to invent a silencer for a gun, without much success, and frays the nerves of both housekeeper Mrs Hudson as well as Dr Watson's shell shocked patient. Even their dog isn't safe as Holmes casually admits to testing out a new sedative on him, proclaiming that the dog doesn't mind.
The script by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham & Simon Kinberg is witty and lively while the dialogue is brought up to date in a few places with some modern day colloquialisms such as the scene where Watson admonishes Holmes to 'nut' a rather large adversary. I could never have imagined Nigel Stock as Watson saying that to Peter Cushing's Holmes.
It cleverly reunites Holmes with Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) - the only woman who ever bested him. There are references to their previous encounter throughout and Rachel McAdams plays her as feisty and sparky yet untrustworthy. As Holmes awakens to find her in his room, the moment her back is turned he quickly checks that his safe is still locked. When offered a glass of wine, he is careful not to drink it. Once bitten....
Jude Law is a real revelation at Dr Watson. He plays the character with style and bravado, taking part in the physical action scenes with great gusto. I had never been impressed by his acting ability before but he displays a good range and a fine talent for comedy. Holmes and Watson bicker like an old married couple and when Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly) appears on the scene with the distinct intention of getting Watson up the aisle, Holmes is clearly put out at the possibility of losing his old friend and sparring partner.
The pace of the film is brisk and lively with some quick cutting by James Herbert. You never get the chance to be bored, although thankfully it doesn't look like a pop video. I was actually expecting it to be a bit of a mess in the hands of ex Mr Madonna Guy Ritchie. I'd enjoyed 'Lock, stock....' and 'Snatch' but when he moved into the 'big time' with 'Revolver' he seemed out of his depth. When you think about it though, with 'Sherlock Holmes' he returns to the streets of London and a film with a slightly gritty look. I was greatly relieved that he made such a good job of the movie and I can now believe that he is capable of far more than low budget gangster movies.
The photography by Philippe Rousselot with its strong use of directional lighting is full of impact. The overall look of the piece captures the feel of the era without the necessity to hide London in a real pea souper. The CGI is very good indeed with some impressive composite shots over the Town, Westminster Bridge and Parliament. We also get to see Tower Bridge under construction as Holmes and Watson pass it in a Hansom cab.
The music by Hans Zimmer provides a real period feel as it emulates the barrel organ that may have been present at the time. Even if you close your eyes, it conjures up images of the late Victorian cobbled streets. It helps to blend in the scenes as a kind of glue to hold the whole enterprise together.
Overall, it's what I'd call 'a right good romp' with an attention holding mix of comedy, thrills, action, tension, cliffhangers - oh and a bit of detection thrown in for good measure. Well, it is Sherlock Holmes after all.
The film leaves us (happily) with the strong hint that there may well be more Sherlock Holmes adventures to follow and I sincerely hope they will continue to be as fresh, imaginative and as much fun as this one.
The clues are there if we can only recognise them for what they are. Once you have removed the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.
Come on Watson, the game's afoot! Not a Deerstalker or magnifying glass in sight!
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