Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A to B Back and Forth Review: Sherlock Holmes, Part I

I'm teaming up with longtime friend, Kozy of April 31st to review films. We're calling the segment "A to B" because I'm Andrew and he's Brad. And he lives in Amsterdam, and I live in Buenos Aires. We generally won't get the new releases when the States do, but hopefully we can either help you reminisce or offer advice before you head out to the video store. So let's get to our tenth review - Sherlock Holmes.


What up, Homes???

I assume we won't be debating preferences for clothing or music this time around since, well, the film takes place in the 1800s, well before the invention of the noise reducing headphone. But no matter, Guy Ritchie has done his thing and put a very modern take on the classic character of Sherlock Holmes. The film is littered with slow-motion action scenes and a helluva lot of bare-knuckled punching - not exactly what I expected from Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes. I'll be honest. I was a bad reviewer and didn't even realize that Ritchie was at the helm on this film until the credits rolled. Suddenly it all made sense.

I don't pretend to be an expert on the character, but I did enjoy a couple of Doyle's books when I was a lad. Needless to say, this was a departure from my preconceived notions of the characters. Yet this modern approach was a winning one nonetheless. Downey and Jude Law give plenty of oomph to the two lead characters, and even though it seemed contrived, I still enjoyed the way Ritchie brought to life 1800s London. There was just enough filth and grime to satisfy reality, and keep the film from venturing too far into Hudson Hawk territory (though I must say there was plenty of flirtation with farce).
"Just be quiet and boring and will be the easiest paycheck you've earned, 'kay?"

There was basically no effort to explain to us who Holmes is. If you had never heard of Sherlock Holmes before, you would spend most of this movie wondering what the hell was going on. But given that everyone has their preconceived notions of the character, Ritchie did nothing to adjust those notions one way or another. This was a smart decision, as it lets the viewer add more depth to the character on her own.

On the other hand, it's clear that nobody put much effort into crafting a decent story. This is all the more glaring considering that Doyle wrote 60 stories about the character. First of all, there were moments where Ritchie was intentionally misleading us, not simply the characters on screen, such as Holmes' "trip" into the cult's practices. A great mystery doesn't need such tricks. Furthermore, a mystery should not simply consist of people running around from one place to another until things get resolved. You can have an action movie and a mystery at the same time. Also, the action scenes were nothing special. I'm OK with the idea of making an action movie out of this. Incidentally, I'm one of the few people who actually liked Hudson Hawk. So I'm not that hard to win over. But outside of the Quebecois gigantor, none of the action sequences did much for me.
Most obscure reference made in an A-to-B yet? Just wait until you see what Brad rolls out tomorrow...

All that said, I must say I enjoyed the movie. The acting was superb, and the polish carried it the rest of the way. That said, I can't really think of one thing that I'm going to remember about this film two weeks from now. It was fine for what it was, and didn't do anything to offend me. I just hope the sequel has a bit more care put into the details.

So, my good Dr. Watson (or are you Sherlock? - we should let the readers decide), what say you?


My good man, Mr. Reed,

You have given a very fair review of the film. It is indeed a movie with positive qualities, but one that will not leave you asking questions weeks later. I suppose I can begin by revealing that I contemplated standing up and walking out of the theatre after just the first 15 minutes. That’s right, walking out. From the get-go there was something about this movie that just did not work for me. Days later it is still difficult to put my finger on what exactly that was. But I will try.

For beginners I was bored. I did have the benefit of knowing Guy Ritchie was sitting in the Director’s chair on this project. I liked that Ritchie brought a strong visual identity to the movie. However, for an action movie that was so dependent on CGI, I found the pacing downright plodding.

Secondly, as you aptly noted, there was basically no effort to explain to us who Holmes is. However, unlike you, I did not find this to be a wise decision. According to Wikipedia, Holmes is famous for his intellectual prowess and is renowned for his skillful use of astute observation, deductive reasoning and forensic skills to solve difficult cases. That description plays nearly identical to my understanding of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved character.

With that in mind, I spent almost the entire movie scratching my head and muttering, "is this really how Holmes would handle or approach this situation?" Of course many of the situations were so far removed from the pretext of the character the answer to that question was invariably "no." And this bothered me.
"Seriously, nobody's going to notice that we're butchering the legacy."

The Holmes portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. participates in bare-knuckled cage fight matches, narrowly escapes large scale bombings, and is so socially inept he gets a glass of red wine thrown in his face by Watson’s fiancée. Yet he is so suave he wins over the woman trying to ruin him. This was not a Holmes that deduced things through clever observation and reasoning, so really then, why even pretend the audience has gathered to watch him solve a mystery?

Equally strange was the behavior of Watson. I won’t bother to analyze his character in the same way, but I will say this. Watching Homes and Watson interact, I was reminded of another cranky Brit and his reluctant enabling partner. I am of course referring to Dr. Gregory House and Dr. James Wilson of the hit TV show House MD. I am serious, get these 4 guys together and you have the beginnings of a great support group.

Lastly, what was up with Moriarty? To begin with, Guy Ritchie chose again not to do anything to develop this character. I suppose he assumed everyone in the audience knew Moriarty. Secondly, his only purpose in this movie is to set-up the sequel. I find that extremely annoying. And lastly (but most importantly), why did Guy Ritchie not reveal the face of Moriarty? Most likely because he could secure an A-level star for the sequel, but not for throw away scenes in the original. But of course I do have another pet theory. Maybe Ritchie sat home one rainy Saturday morning with his lads watching cartoons and found inspiration. Maybe it’s just me, but the portrayal of Moriarty is shocking similar to the faceless and mysterious Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget fame.
Brad's on to you, Mister Ritchie.

So I was far more engaged writing this email then I was during my screening of Sherlock Holmes. What do you think of my criticisms? Have I given this flick to much thought when I should just go with the flow?

T. Ziens, Brad

Tune in tomorrow for Part II where things will take a turn for the gross. Just remember that I warned you.

Previous A to Bs:
500 Days of Summer
Inglorious Basterds
Public Enemies
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler
Star Trek
Terminator 4: Salvation

1 comment:

Sean said...

Great Dr. Claw reference. When I saw the movie I remembered thinking, "who does this guy think he is, Dr. Evil?".