Tuesday 15 December 2020

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

A private detective thriller, Sherlock Holmes questionably thrusts the famous investigator into the world of non-stop CGI-enhanced action with a curiously dreary outcome.

In London of 1890, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his friend Dr. Watson (Jude Law) apprehend serial murderer and black magic practitioner Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) just before he kills his latest victim. Blackwood is executed by hanging. 

Months later, Holmes is in an emotional funk due to lack of mental stimulation when his ex-lover and notorious swindler Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), working for a mysterious client, reappears and hires him to find a dwarf by the name of Reardon.

Holmes and Watson locate Reardon's murdered body in Backwood's coffin, the Lord having returned from the dead. With London thrown into a panic and Police Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) useless, Holmes and Watson uncover a massive conspiracy to topple the government, and have to race against time to stop the world from falling under the influence of a maniac.

The recreated London of the late nineteenth century is the star of Sherlock Holmes, director Guy Ritchie using blue-grey palettes to capture the bustling city in its muddy industrial glory. The visual candy and set designs often provide a welcome distraction from an otherwise bland exercise in dumbing down Sherlock Holmes for a mass audience by amping the thrills towards Roger Moore-era James Bond excess.

Ritchie and his three screenwriters do deserve credit for creating a protagonist faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, with Holmes a dishevelled, often irritated fiddler, obsessed by experimental concoctions and anything else his curious mind steers him towards when not occupied with crime solving. 

But this is also a private detective movie where prolonged and over-the-top brawls, shoot-outs, explosions and narrow escapes have to intrude into every third scene, and at 129 minutes, the film lugs around obvious bloat. The computer-enhanced set-pieces dominate and detract from any cerebral joy, indeed the detective's final analysis and detailed crime explanation a rushed muddle of nonsense.

Robert Downey Jr. interprets Holmes as athletic and resourceful once he overcomes the mental doldrums, but also a social victim of his sharp intuition. The dynamic between him and Jude Law's Watson veers towards excessively spiky, the script skipping past the foundation of their friendship and straight towards needling.

Visually captivating by needlessly busy, this Sherlock Holmes is more boisterously bare-knuckled than brainy.

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