Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Description   [from Freebase]

Sherlock Holmes is a 2009 British-American action mystery film based on the character of the same name created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film was directed by Guy Ritchie and produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey and Dan Lin. The screenplay by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg was developed from a story by Lionel Wigram and Michael Robert Johnson. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law portray Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson respectively. In the film, Holmes and his companion Watson, with aid from former adversary Irene Adler, investigate a series of murders connected to occult rituals. Mark Strong plays the villain Lord Blackwood, who has somehow returned after his execution with a plot to take over the British Empire using an arsenal of dark arts and new technologies. The film went on general release in the United States on 25 December 2009, and on 26 December 2009 in the UK, Ireland, and the Pacific, and was met with a moderately positive critical reaction. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Original Score and Best Art Direction, which it lost to Up and Avatar, respectively.

Review

Sherlock Holmes

Can anyone recall that five-year span from 1996 to 2001 when Robert Downey, Jr. abused drugs, tussled with the law, and nearly flushed his illustrious acting career down the toilet? It’s now difficult to believe such a sidetrack even occurred. Downey could contribute only to his existing franchises (including the super-charged Iron Man series and its might Marvel offshoots) and still stay employed for the better part of the pending decade.

Granted, that isn’t happening. Sensing his current white-hot status in the ever-fickle film industry, Downey chooses to stay busy while still remembering that quality triumphs quantity. Yes, he single-handedly rescued Marvel’s nascent film slate with Jon Favreau’s popcorn blockbuster. But he also brought measured pathos to Joe Wright’s The Soloist, and scored a well-deserved Oscar nomination — his second — for his calculatedly gonzo Tropic Thunder performance. Now Downey launches what looks to be another lucrative franchise (financially as well as creatively) by stepping into the storied shoes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s private detective, Sherlock Holmes, for Guy Ritchie’s inspired interpretation.

The game is already afoot as the film opens, with Holmes (Downey) and his trusted yet beleaguered colleague Watson (Jude Law) closing in on a London serial killer named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong, who continues the scene-stealing trend he started in Ritchie’s enjoyable RocknRolla). Captured, convicted, and eventually hanged, Blackwood creates supernatural confusion for Downey’s sleuth when he apparently returns from the grave and embarks on a vengeance mission against the powerful men that shut him down.

Ritchie’s Holmes likely won’t please purists raised on Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, but it isn’t made for them. Much like Star Trek, Casino Royale, or Batman Begins, it fashions its timeless fictional characters for a breakneck thriller meant to electrify modern audiences. And the resulting adventure is a vigorous, intricate whodunit drunk with the thrill of the hunt. I can’t say whether it’s canonical or not, having never read Doyle’s novels. But I know it’s entertaining as any picture I’ve seen this year — and more intelligent than anticipated, thanks to Tony Peckham and Simon Kinberg’s buoyant but brainy script.

The screenwriters share an ear for flirtatious, impassioned dialogue, which Downey and Law zealously embrace. That’s right, I said Downey and Law: Ritchie’s Holmes is a 21st century bromance that teems with combustible male chemistry. Downey’s detective is an attention-craving, arrogant, amoral, and brilliant wild card of a character. Law’s sidekick captures the impatient aristocrat hiding beneath the polished actor’s pedicured surface. And we savor every minute we spend in their company. The Watson-Holmes vibe burns so bright that a third leg to the Victorian love triangle, personified by Rachel McAdams, feels wholly unnecessary. The poor starlet, wasted in her role, probably thought she was signing on for Downey’s love interest, not realizing that part belonged — in a not-so-subliminal sense — to Law.

Maybe Ritchie will carve out more space for her character in the sequel, teased in this film’s closing scenes with the promise of Holmes’ legendary adversary Professor Moriarty finally entering the picture. Based on Ritchie’s heady, exhilarating introductory chapter, I’m more than eager for another ride, provided it’s as mentally stimulating as this.

Elementary, my dear Rachel.

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