Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (2009)


When I caught the trailer for this movie I was a little disturbed. Sherlock Holmes beating the crap out of people? Quick cuts? Robert Downey Jr. nude and handcuffed on a bed with only a pillow hiding little Bobby from us. Um, who’s idea was this.

Then I saw that it was a Guy Ritchie film and it all made sense.


Famous London detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his partner Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) track down and apprehend Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) a murderer who’s actions are driven by the occult. Before Blackwood is hung he vows that he will return and that Holmes will be unable to stop him. Soon enough the prophesy comes true.

To complicate matters further the lovely con artist Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) returns to London and enlists Holmes help in a different matter. As the mystery thickens Holmes discovers that he has multiple adversaries out for him. Will he and Watson survive long enough to stop Blackwood?

Good Points:

  • Downey Jr. and Law make a good team
  • Period detail and atmosphere are effective
  • Ritchie keeps things moving

Bad Points:

  • Sherlock Holmes the super hero?
  • Rachel McAdams felt out of place
  • Ritchie gets a bit too creative for his own good


Forget your typical mystery and prepare yourself for Holmes in a more James Bond type role, and you’ll actually have a good time. All the production elements are top notch and make for a good popcorn movie on a Friday night.

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 4

Sound: 4

Music: 4

Acting: 4

Script: 3

Direction: 3

Entertainment: 3

Overall: 3

In Depth Review:

The more I thought about it, the concept had merit. Sherlock Holmes is a character that gets revisited on a regular basis, like Dracula or James Bond. Why not bring him back and try something a little different. With Guy Ritchie aboard it would at least be interesting to look at. Robert Downey Jr. could bring a lot to the part. Lets take a look at the results.

The main idea behind this film is to take Sherlock Holmes: detective and turn him into Sherlock Holmes: superhero. The script does this by widening the threat of Blackwood. Instead of being a simple murderer he’s now into world domination. He even makes your typical Bond villain monologue explaining his evil plan.

The script also introduces a buddy picture element. Watson wants to wed the lovely Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), but Holmes is unable to reconcile this. Holmes needs Watson, not only as a partner, but also as a friend. Watson needs Holmes as a friend, but also as a source of adventure. This dynamic results in some of the funniest parts of the movie. Each man does his best to outmaneuver the other and make it look like he’s not trying to outmaneuver him.

The actors know exactly how to play the parts. Robert Downey Jr. locks onto Holmes typical eccentricities, but adds a spin of mental instability. This man’s mind is in constant overdrive. Without a case to focus on, he becomes a shut-in constantly searching for new mental stimulus. Holmes can be a bit annoying, but Downey Jr. allows us to see deeper into the character.

Jude Law surprised me the most as Watson. According to my wife (who enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories in her youth) Law is one of the best Watson’s she’s seen, very close to his literary version in appearance and demeanor. I found his performance to be very warm and engaging, a perfect counter to Holmes and a vast contrast to the standard take on Watson as the buffoon.

Mark Strong certainly has presence as the diabolical Lord Blackwood. He appearances are kept to a minimum but when he’s on screen he projects menace. But I never felt that he was a real threat to Holmes. Just like most Bond villains, we know pretty early on that he’s not as clever as he thinks he is.

Rachel McAdams is a bit of a puzzle for me. Her character is interesting. Her acting is fine. She looks great in the costumes. But for some reason I was pulled out of the film when she was on screen. Maybe it was the American accent (explained away conveniently enough), or maybe she’s one of those actresses that doesn’t seem to fit in period films. Her part isn’t especially large, but it is important and it did end up affecting my enjoyment of the film.

The rest of the movie falls in line to make the superhero angle work.

The setting is dank and dirty reminding me more of Gotham city than the typical film representation of Victorian London. There is an added realism to the city from the sets down to the costumes. On top of that the movie has a grey color scheme, giving everything a slightly washed out look. This makes the explosions and blood stand out a bit more.

Ritchie does a lot of interesting things with the camera, especially when he jumps into Holmes head. During certain fight sequences, we see Holmes plan out his attack in detail. The camera shows each action in deliberate slowness as Holmes explains why he’ll attack and what the affect will be. Then the attack is executed in a stutter of real time and slow motion. It’s an interesting approach that gives us a peak into the mind of our lead character and punches up the action scenes.

The rest of the set pieces are filmed with skill, keeping everything clear while moving the sequence forward at a crisp pace. The sound effects play a big part in these sequences providing pop to keep things exciting.

Hans Zimmer who provided Batman with his most recent musical scores is on hand for this film. It’s an eclectic blend of musical styles, straying far from the more classical approach we’d expect. It lacks a true super hero theme, but it works wonderfully in the film, supporting the action as well as the quieter moments.

The movie felt a little too manufactured. It tired hard to be something new, a little too hard. Maybe if it had toned down the style a bit, let us settle into the world a little more, I would have found it more engaging. Part of this may be Ritchie’s direction, but I’m not sure if I’m sold completely on this concept of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes as a superhero is an interesting idea and the concept works better than I thought it would. This makes for a solid nights entertainment, but it’s not a knock out of the park.


  1. I didn't like this take on Sherlock at all, and I'm a pretty big Sherlock fan. It is like a James Bond super hero film. Nothing about it seemed believable to me. I'll admit I'm not much of a Robert Downey Jr fan either--he acts just too manic for my taste. I guess my interest in this type film becomes less and less, but that's ok, there's always something worth watching. Good review though.

    1. I see where you're coming from. I revisted this one with my wife a couple months ago, and I felt it didn't hold up as well as it could have. I think Richie's direction was too hyper-active for my tastes.

      Now we saw this before we saw the BBC version with Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch. Now that was really entertaining and a great way to modernize Sherlock Holmes, but keep it tied to the original stories. The plots and twists are familiar but just different enough to keep you guessing. So the Richie film looks even less impressive compared to the BBC series.