Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

I am a Sherlock Holmes fan.

That is to say, I have read and reread all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original short stories and novels (well... I haven't reread all of them, because even a Sherlock Holmes fan must admit that some are significantly better than others), most of the pastiches written by later writers after Doyle passed on, and seen more than my share of film and television adaptations. So when I first heard about the adaptation by director Guy Ritchie, I was... cautiously optimistic.

I was optimistic because the first trailer looked like a lot of fun and the cast -- while not what I would've chosen -- was full of talented actors. I was cautious because Guy Ritchie's previous work didn't fill me with much encouragement that he would handle the property all that well, and, as fun as that trailer was, it didn't really look like a Sherlock Holmes film. Oh, and I was also cautious because most Sherlock Holmes adaptations have been pretty terrible.

Well, I suppose it's not fair to say that most have been terrible, just that they haven't been all that faithful to the original stories. People always want to make Holmes fight Jack the Ripper, or they want Mycroft to leave the Diogenese Society, or they want to either play up or completely ignore his drug use. Only Tarzan has suffered more as a character by the adaptions of his work done by Hollywood. Tarzan never said, "Me Tarzan, you Jane" in the novels and Sherlock Holmes never said, "Elementary, My Dear Watson."

So the film didn't scare me away because it looked like a departure from the novels. I'm used to that. What I was hoping for was a good film that worked on its own, while not getting everything completely wrong.

So I was more than satisfied when it turned out to be one of the best Sherlock Holmes films I've ever seen. No, it wasn't completely faithful to the original stories, but it got more right than it got wrong, and it managed to be just as smart, witty, and clever as I could've hoped. It was a Hollywood action picture to be sure, but the Holmes in this film used his wits just as often as he used his strength, and never departed too far from the heart of the character, who was shown to be an expert boxer and swordsman. Holmes did finally beat Professor Moriarty by outfighting him and throwing him off the edge of the Reichenbach Falls, after all.

I would not have cast Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes, but after seeing his performance in this film, I'm glad I wasn't consulted on that decision. He doesn't look like the popular image of Holmes (which is pretty faithful to the description given by Doyle), nor is he even English. But what he is is an amazing actor who understood the heart of the character better than any actor since Basil Rathbone. In fact, he may even have been the best on screen Sherlock Holmes ever.

And Jude Law was without a doubt the best Watson I've ever seen. He gave a fantastic performance as a character very few filmmakers have understood enough to use as anything more than comic interest. The writers and director Guy Ritchie made the brilliant decision to use Watson as the straight man to Holmes's eccentricities. The friendship between the two characters was better captured and illustrated in this film than even in many of the original stories.

The rest of the cast was good too, but this was definitely the Holmes/Watson show, as well it should be. Rachel McAdams was suitably luminous and bewitching as Irene Adler, though the inclusion of her character wasn't all that necessary. Still, I'm glad they used Adler instead of making up some other character just for the sake of throwing in a female character. The bad guy was the bad guy. That's about all I can say about him.

About the story, I can't say all that much because, at the end of the day, there wasn't really much of one. The whole plot made little sense when looked at as a whole, but it certainly proved enough set pieces and excuses for Holmes to use his deductive detective work. And the fight scenes were awesome, and actually managed to show off Holme's brilliant mind as well as his brawn.

Anyway, go see it. It was probably the most fun film I've seen all year.

And, yes, it was a Sherlock Holmes film, no matter what you may hear from some other people who take things too seriously.

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