Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sherlock Holmes


This newest version of the classic English detective gets many things right. Sherlock Holmes may be the most repeated book to screen adaptation in film history. The Basil Rathbone Holmes aside there are more than a handful of actors known for playing the master of deduction. "Once you've eliminated the impossible ..." was a signature line from the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle just like "Elementary my dear Watson" was a phrase taken fom a subsequent play (not written by Doyle) and popularized in the movies. There are so many versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles that you could take all day watching marathon style.
The newest version, opening wide on Christmas Day, sumptuously adds to the movie canon whether through the dark hues lensed by Philippe Rousselot or the action beats handled so well by director Guy Richie, actually toned down a few notches from previous films. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as the titular consulting detective and Dr. Watson nail the physicality of the characters as originally conceived by Doyle.
The plot adds moments from the second Homes story written, The Sign of Four, in the matter of some dialogue involving a watch as well as Watson getting engaged to Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly). Other characters from the Conan canon include Irene Adler (an effective if underutilized Rachel McAdams), Inspector Lestrade (a proper Eddie Mastan) and only very briefly seen Dr. Moriarity. Who plays Moriarity in the inevitable sequel is up for grabs since we see his hands and cloak but not his face. The villain of the current Sherlock Holmes though is the non-Doyle Lord Blackwood (chilling perf by Mark Strong) as a madman lord who uses occult tricks and science to wow and confuse the public at large.
This Sherlock Holmes ratchets the overall action and uses CGI to enhance a view of Victorian England complete with an under construction London Bridge. Script (there's four writers) constantly offers clever turns that reveal facets of Holmes and Watson even while advancing the story. More than once we observe Holmes thinking aloud about how he's going to achieve an objective. We see him visualize this in slowed and varied motion. Then we see the actual deed in real time.
Not the least ironic is the advertising slogan "Holmes for the Holidays," which itself is a play on a Jodie Foster directed film (Home For the Holidays) that starred Downey as a prodigal son visiting his dysfunctional family.

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