When a string of murders baffles Scotland Yard, they call in Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jnr) and his colleague Dr Watson (Jude Law). What Holmes discovers is a set of clues that lead to a secretive cult whose driving force, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) is developing a plan to take control of Parliament with his own society and rule through fear. But there is another mysterious evil figure, who has hired the beautiful Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), an accomplished sleuth herself and Holmes' one time love interest, to ferret out information that could shift the balance of power.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Guy Ritchie gets a lot right and a lot wrong in his supposed 'back to the source' Sherlock Holmes, which might be called 'the case of too much attitude'. What he gets dead right is the casting, with a trim Robert Downey Jnr playing an eccentric Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law his love-hate partner, Dr Watson, making a fiery odd couple with engaging banter and spicy attitude. Too much (contempo) attitude in fact, which carries into the jaunty tone playing against the credibility of the film's period setting. While the adventure loving couple never take themselves seriously (a good thing) the screenplay doesn't take anything seriously, either (a bad thing). It's all for effect - and good effect, too, but after a while it seems like Guy Ritchie is having so much fun he can't discipline himself.
This is well exemplified in the extended fight sequence between the duo and the French giant sent by their adversary (twice). The longest of two long fight sequences becomes a parody of itself and you wish Ritchie would just get on with the plot ... which is rather elementary . . . my dear Watson. The evil Blackwood (Mark Strong) - with his secret society of Mason-esque mumbo-jumbo peddlers - wants to take over England by instilling fear into the populace, which is to be engineered by clever tricks disguised as the magical powers of their cult. One such device is a crude forerunner of today's mobile-phone detonated explosive - rather hamfistedly presented by the filmmakers.
This is the entry point for the story, as Blackwood conducts a ritual sacrifice of a (presumed) virgin on an elaborate altar, potentially the next in a series of murders that has Scotland Yard calling on consultant detective Sherlock Holmes for help. Just in time, too, for Holmes has been out of work for three months and is getting weird, much to Watson's disgust.
Rachel McAdams turns up as the woman who is both professional competitor and on-off love interest for Holmes, and Eddie Marsan is his usual prickly self as the Chief of Police (or whatever they call them in Victorian England). The usually excellent Mark Strong is let down by Ritchie, encouraged to overact in his big scenes, but Kelly Reilly is spot on as Watson's intended - if only Holmes would stop sulking and let him get on with it.
Superb production design gives a slight air of claustrophobia to 1880s London (very apt) but Hans Zimmer and his musos pile on the melodramatic music to distraction. In short, the screenplay and the production are overstated (perhaps prodded along by Joel Silver's sensibilities and the perceptions that the US market can't handle anything more subtle) when the Brits are renowned for subtlety. Sherlock Holmes has been one of the most enduring figures of popular English literature partly for his uniqueness. While Ritchie pays lip service to his highly evolved deductive capabilities, he comes across as a period version of Columbo - with fighting skills. But we don't believe any of it really.
The climactic scenes are too long, too laboured and derivative, too corny and (since we've been insured by Holmes' infallible resourcefulness) without any sense of danger or tension. There are things to enjoy, but the flaws hold back the applause.
Review by Louise Keller:
Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic Sherlock Holmes, the British detective with extraordinary deductive powers in the hands of director Guy Ritchie will disappoint many - including me. He has opted to create a buddy movie set in 19th Century London in which violence, action and stunts takes precedence over character and the very essence of what Sherlock Holmes (and his side-kick Dr Watson) represents. The talented, enigmatic Robert Downey Jnr. does not disappoint: he is always a pleasure to watch, although I could not help but wonder what a Sherlock Holmes he might have been in different hands. It's as though Ritchie cannot believe a good tale well told and elegant characterisations alone can carry a film.
One of the biggest problems in Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham's screenplay is the relationships between the key characters. First and foremost is the unsatisfying bond between Holmes and the good Doctor, to whom incidentally, the words 'elementary my dear Watson' are never uttered. At times, my mind wandered to The Pink Panther's Inspector Clouseau as attempts at humour fall flat. Then there is the ludicrous implied sexual link between Holmes and Rachel McAdams' 'world class criminal' (there is nothing credible here) and the token romance between Jude Law's Watson and his fiancé Mary, albeit nicely played by Kelly Reilly. Mark Strong has a presence reminiscent of his name as the evil Lord Blackwood who dabbles in black magic and fear and I like Eddie Marsan as the down-to-earth copper who is perhaps the film's most authentic character.
Production values are excellent, but I question some of the decisions Ritchie makes of Hans Zimmer's score: that gypsy violin piece playing above the slo-mo action in one of the big-bang explosion scenes grates. There are some funny lines and who couldn't fawn over Watson's huge, placid bulldog, on whom Holmes experiments, but despite black ravens, voodoo and a book of spells, there is no magic here. Ritchie forgot to pay attention to that line Holmes delivers early in the film 'The little details are by far the most important.'
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SHERLOCK HOLMES (M)
CAST: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan, James Fox, Hans Matheson, Robert Maillet
PRODUCER: Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram
DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie
SCRIPT: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg (Holmes & Dr Watson characters Arthur Conan Doyle)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philippe Rouisselot
EDITOR: James Herbert
MUSIC: Hans Zimmer
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sarah Greenwood
RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2009