The new movie “Sherlock Holmes” is definitely not your father’s Sherlock Holmes…at least not my father’s. My father was a Sherlock Holmes admirer and, Holmes traditionalist that he was, I think Dad would have liked this no holds barred action hero Holmes played by, Golden Globe Winner for best actor in a comedy, Robert Downey, Jr. Downey’s Holmes eschews the trade mark deerstalker hat and large, curved pipe and emerges as a two-fisted pistol packing action hero. Downey’s portrayal retains Holmes’ intelligence and eccentricities while allowing him to put his own stamp on the character.
While the new Holmes has been “souped up” to appeal to more contemporary sensibilities, to its credit the film keeps the great detective firmly planted in 19th Century London and builds on characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, what my father referred to as “the canon.” It is useless to even think of being ahead of Holmes’ deductive reasoning which enables him to blast through clue after clue. Director Guy Ritchie has kept the pacing tight with Holmes’ exposition-heavy conclusions flying so furiously that before one can say, “Hey wait a minute but…” Holmes is already onto the next catastrophe, explanation or fist fight, with Hans Zimmer’s simultaneously ominous and lively score galloping alongside.
Jude Law plays a dapper, no nonsense yet long suffering Dr. Watson who, against his better judgment, always becomes enmeshed in Holmes’ adventures. The story even has mild shades of “His Girl Friday” (1940) as Holmes objects to Watson’s leaving their famous address, 221B Baker Street, to get married. Holmes, at one point, even uses his deductive reasoning in an ill fated attempt to put off Watson’s fiancée by correctly deducing things about her past.
The always beautiful and charming Rachel McAdams completes the triumverate as Irene Adler, known among Holmes’ fans as the only woman to have ever outsmarted the great detective. Adler appeared in only one of the original Holmes stories, “A Scandal In Bohemia,” although she is referred to in other stories. Here McAdams appropriately updates her as a gun toting, tough punching contemporary.
Another character from the original stories who appears is Inspector Lestrade, played by Eddie Marsan. Lestrade is a Scotland Yard detective who, in the original stories, relied on Holmes’ help and was often given credit for Holmes’ achievements. Here he is depicted as a rival who resents Holmes’ interference.
There is a villain who seems to have supernatural powers, chases aplenty, a cliff hanger or two, a large explosion and a sitting room’s worth of space for a sequel. All is set against the set piece of a dark and ominous CGI (computer graphics imaging) created London in the late 1800s. The story is non-stop with many moving parts. It quickly becomes apparent that one just has to go with it and accept that it will probably take at least a second viewing to piece the entire narrative together.
It seems that Mr. Downey has two movie franchises going. Prior to the start of “Sherlock Holmes,” the AMC Loews Kips Bay Theatre showed the trailer for the new “Iron Man” movie, also starring Downey. From Marvel Comics to Conan Doyle, the man must be exhausted.
Sherlock Holmes, director Guy Ritchie, 2009, Warner Brothers, 130 minutes, rated PG-13