With posters up and buzz happening for most of 2009, Sherlock Holmes succeeded in evoking a great deal of excitement. The opening scenes and impressive production values upped my expectations, and for a while the movie definitely delivered. After the first half, however, Robert Downey Jr. seemed to be having more fun playing Holmes than I had watching the film. I admire Downey’s talent immensely, but I feel the screenwriters -- Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg -- must have sat around a table offering “what if” suggestions and then threw them all into the movie.
Downey is always unpredictable, sometimes amusing and occasionally over the top; it’s what many of his fans like about him. Yet in Sherlock Holmes he goes from prize fighter and crime solver to expert chemist and lover to a few other characters. Each arc comes and goes with rapid dialogue and quirky facial mannerisms that change as quickly as a snapping turtle. Considering the plot is really about Holmes and trusted cohort Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) capturing Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a cult follower charged with several ritualistic murders who’s hanged and what happens after that, this is a lot to take in.
Of course, Downey and Law are so captivating it’s difficult to care about the plot -- but then you find yourself watching a room in Parliament filled with men ready to drink poison if their leader demands it, and you’re brought back from the edge of your seat.
Every idiosyncratic personality trait Downey brings to his role seems perfected to give us a visual sense of what so many words have tried to convey. “When he (Holmes) feels he’s not inspired or motivated by some creative charge, he’ll fall into a state where he barely speaks a word for three days, and when he’s engaged, he has incredible amounts of energy, super-human energy...Holmes’s passionate curiosity and his ability to not only see but interpret these details are what make him so unique,” Downey said.
Law comes across as equally adept in the role of Watson, a man who admires his friend on an intellectual level while questioning some of his more bizarre behaviors like playing the violin at three in the morning or experimenting on Watson’s dog. There’s great chemistry between Law and Downey, who play off each other as delightfully natural as a bow and violin.
Downey also has great chemistry with his sexy and very unpredictable girl friend, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who one minute eggs him on and the next tries to best him at crime solving or at getting into trouble.
For me, the slight story problems seem somewhat forgettable considering the terrific production values. Every set design by Sarah Greenwood (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) shouts London in the 1890s. Some of the sets appear so elaborate they’re almost inconceivable. Plus Jenny Beavan and Melissa Meister have created hundreds of amazing costumes; James Herbert has done an exemplary editing job; and the cinematography by Philippe Rousselot (The Great Debaters) is amazing. Sherlock Holmes could have been a National Geographic show on London of that era. Also, Hans Zimmer’s (The Burning Plain) musical score sounds both solid and fitting. Still, the Jerry Bruckheimer-type action is too constant, and I couldn’t find a consistent flow in the movie.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes is certainly entertaining. There’s much to like about it. I questioned two tried-and-true Sherlock Holmes fans and got a split decision on the film. One thought it followed Holmes adventures to a tee and loved it; the other thought it was basically a mess, but still enjoyed it. Like always; it’s a matter of taste.
(Released by Warner Bros. Studios and rated “PG-13” for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.