Sherlock Holmes (2009)

sherlock homes

“Beneath this pillow lies the key to my release.”

The Scoop: 2009, PG-13. Directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong.

Tagline: Nothing Escapes Him

Summary Capsule: Sherlock deals with Watson’s leaving the nest, and solves some murders and a resurrection while he’s at it.

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Drew’s rating: I think my wife’s right — Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect choice to play guys who are way smarter than you, know it, and are total jerks about it.

Drew’s review: I admit it: I’m a Sherlock Holmes junkie. I’m not a Holmesian or a Sherlockian (yes, those are real things and yes, apparently distinct from one another), but I’ve read all the books and can rattle off arcane trivia at will. I know that Watson narrates all but four of the stories in the canon, and that Holmes was fond of shooting a patriotic “VR” (Victoria Regina) in bullets through the walls of 221B Baker Street. I know that Watson first met his wife in “The Sign of Four,” that Holmes died in “The Final Problem” and returned in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” and that Watson became a widower in between. I can tell you that the only time Holmes ever lost his cool occurred once when Watson was shot, that he eventually retired to become a beekeeper, and that he and Watson came out of retirement one final time to serve their country on the eve of World War I. Hell, I even know that Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law penned stories about a sort of anti-Holmes in A. J. Raffles, the original gentleman thief. (They’re not bad.)

What’s my point? Just that like anything I’m passionate about, I went into Sherlock Holmes expecting them not to capture exactly what I see in my mind, and just hoping for a decent adventure. Which was wise, because that’s exactly what I got — a good adventure that tries to encompass the spirit of the Holmes stories, if not every last detail. What’s important is that the broad strokes are there: Holmes is a brilliant but eccentric consulting detective who grows stranger the longer he goes without a case. Watson is his best (only) friend who keeps him grounded and provides rather more assistance than he would admit to, even if he’ll never equal his friend’s brilliance. Lestrade is a hopelessly conventional thinker who will call Holmes in on every baffling case and sing his praises in private, just so long as he gets all the credit in public. The villains… well, that’s where we’re departing a bit, because on first look Lord Blackwood’s secret society seems more like something Holmes’ contemporary Carnacki would have tangled with. I’ll admit that’s what I was most worried about both before and during the movie; I don’t have a problem with the supernatural, but it has no place in a Sherlock Holmes story. Whether I walked out frustrated or not… well, you’ll have to see it to find out. Mum’s the word.

I mentioned earlier that Sherlock Holmes doesn’t try to replicate every last element from the books, and that’s true. That being said, I think what tipped the scales for me is that while the filmmakers made numerous alterations, the minute details in certain areas show that the changes weren’t merely a result of apathy or unfamiliarity with the source material. Guy Ritchie didn’t have to reference Watson’s gambling problem or Irene Adler being from New Jersey, but he did; and I predict that it’s those little touches that’ll win over the most stodgy of traditionalists. God is in the details, as they say.

Though He may also be in the actors. I was as skeptical as anyone at Downey’s casting as Holmes — this was not a tall, lanky intellectual who looks like he was born wearing a deerstalker — but if you’re willing to accept a younger, rebooted James Bond or Batman, you should be able to take it in stride. Holmes, like all enduring characters, must adapt to the times even while maintaining his core essence. It’ll never be as perfect a fit as Iron Man (Downey plays Sherlock Holmes, he IS Tony Stark), but if you can accept a more bare-knuckles interpretation of Holmes, Downey does it justice.

Jude Law is probably more similar to how most of us picture the good doctor, and with all respect to Nigel Bruce, it’s nice to see a Watson who isn’t a fat bungler. Even Holmes admitted that Watson had a way with the fairer sex, and if Jude Law can’t pull that off, well, I don’t know my wife. Rachel McAdams is… fine. (In both senses of the word.) She may be better than fine, but I didn’t notice because really, Holmes/Watson is the quintessential bromance and everyone else is just window dressing. Which is good for Mark Strong, probably the film’s weakest link as Lord Blackwood. It’s not entirely his fault, as the character is just too blatantly evil to be taken seriously. As a big fan of comic book supervillains, I’ll be the first to say that they don’t work in non-comic book movies, and Strong is about five minutes from slapping on an iron mask and demanding to be called Doctor Doom. You can’t have everything, I guess, but I like a little more understated menace in my villains.

I don’t have much to add that Eunice didn’t already say more succinctly in her review. The Holmes/Adler love connection is a little too Batman/Catwoman for its own good. To me Holmes will always be 100% asexual, but I understand why the filmmakers felt they needed a female ingenue to attract viewers. As mentioned before, at least McAdams gives us guys something to look at while you ladies drool over Downey and Law. But all in all, it’s a satisfying Sherlock Holmes movie. Is it the Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s outstanding stories? No, it’s merely a facet of him, like all adaptations. But it’s a facet that sparkles brightly and doesn’t have too many flaws under the surface, and that’s good enough for me.

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Eunice’s rating: Cut a stout black thorn to banish ghosts and goblins

Eunice’s review: Sherlock Holmes movies have it a bit tough.

On the one hand, it’s hard to faithfully adapt the books and stories. Like with any fandom, hardcore fans will never be happy. The only version that seems to please is the Jeremy Brett one, but that was over several TV series, so the format was more suited. On the other, so many things that a wider audience immediately associates with Holmes actually come from either William Gillette’s stage adaptation or the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce movies. You leave them out and people feel somehow cheated. And then on one foot, you have to put your own mark on it, which will come off as brilliant or completely awful. There is no in between.

This movie will not please everyone, but it certainly pleased me. Get your mind out of the gutter.

We’re dropped right in the middle as the Great Detective (No, not Batman) finds himself facing some personal crises: He’s in an unbearable mental stagnation after the high of solving the challenging and dangerous case of murderous dark arts practitioner Lord Blackwood, which ended in his lordship’s conviction and execution. But even more horrible is the fact that Dr. Watson has declared that this was his last case because he is about to marry and move out of 221B Baker Street. And then old flame, and world class criminal(!), Irene Adler comes back into his life on behalf of a mysterious employer who is looking for a “ginger midget.”

Just as Holmes is about to self implode, Blackwood is all, “I’m not dead yet. I feel happy!” breaking out of his tomb and continuing his spree of fear and murder. ‘Cause that’s how he rolls. This is just the cure for what ails Holmes as not only does it present stimulation for his brain, but totally gives him a reason to convince Watson to stick around a little longer, and it turns out that Irene is tied up in the whole lot, natch.

This movie’s second biggest setback may be in its assumption that everyone already has a grasp on the basic universe and characters. As someone who does, I find it’s also one of its biggest strengths. Forgetting about any real introductions or explanations, we come in just as Holmes and Watson catch Blackwood in the act. They are established characters, and this is an established story, just try to keep up.

The biggest setback is the story. The plot is pretty convoluted, leading to some incredible scenes, but the villain’s motives aren’t ever really explained. Okay, not true, there is one scene which boils down to someone saying “he’s eeevil.” Looking back and thinking over it, you’ll probably find yourself going “Hurr?” Or, at least with my one viewing, I did. But, as convoluted as the story is, the mystery aspects are too easy to figure out, though I will give points for not cheating by hiding clues from the audience. These weaknesses, I suspect, come from the fact that it’s pretty obvious that Sherlock Holmes is just a setup for a sequel and is more character driven than an actual mystery.

But all is not lost.

I believe that good performances and characters can raise a movie and that is definitely where this one’s strengths lie.

See, Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson have amazering chemistry. They bicker and banter and have moments like people who’ve known each other for years. It’s like whoa. They’re written perfect, they’re acted perfect, both of them nail it. There’s no way either of them could’ve been replaced by other actors and have any of the movie work. And usually I can’t even stand Jude Law! I’ll put in here the fact that I really liked the choice of using other means of conveying Holmes’ thought process than him having to explain everything to Watson in a block of dialogue, both in terms of showing the relationship of the characters and sidestepping the cliché.

Mark Strong doesn’t have much in Lord Blackwood, being more of the “I pop out of the dark at you – BOO!” not-quite-boss villain (remember what I said about obvious sequel[s]?), but what he has he works for all it’s worth. He’s a solid actor no matter what he’s in or the size of the part, and he’s yet to disappoint me in anything I’ve seen him in. If you haven’t caught on to Mark Strong yet you need to. Right now.

Rachel McAdams was okay, but I was way more impressed with Kelly Reilly’s Mary, both in performance and the character. Mary’s story may not be strictly true to the source, but I ended up really liking her and how the Holmes/Watson/Mary dynamic worked out.

The best way I can describe the feel is it’s a Guy Ritchie movie with a shadowy Victorian backdrop and cleaner language. A mix of action and comedy, with slowmos, camera angles, and a couple uses of the story rewind, all set against a Hans Zimmer score.

To summarize: No matter what I said up there, it is one of the better Sherlock Holmes movies. If you’re like me and mentally keep the books separate from the movies, then you can appreciate that it has great acting, an interesting spin on the characters, some fantastic visuals, and the soundtrack is quite delish. And it’s just plain fun.

Can’t wait for the sequel!

What happens in London, stays in London.

Intermission!

  • If there’s ever a drinking game for this movie, “Take a drink every time Lord Blackwood pops out all spooky” would definitely be in there.
  • Not the Illuminati. Nope no Illuminati here.
  • The music that plays over the boxing match and end credits is “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” by The Dubliners. Along with “Not In Blood, But In Bond” (which plays during the explosion scene) it’s my favorite track from the movie. Unfortunately it’s not on the official soundtrack. Lame.
  • The scene of Holmes doing experiments on the effects of the violin on flies is a reference to 1939 movie The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
  • The set for Sherlock Holmes’ home was previously used as Sirius Black’s home in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
  • When Irene Adler is looking through Holmes’ file on her, many of the headlines have a connection to the actual stories, like A Scandal in Bohemia and The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.
  • Both Holmes and Watson share some attributes with their creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, who began writing the stories while waiting for patients who never came to his floundering medical practice. Doyle was himself a proponent of scientific deduction and even investigated two closed cases, helping to exonerate two men who had been falsely accused. Ironically, though Holmes dismissed the notion of anything supernatural as rubbish, Doyle became a Spiritualist after a series of family deaths and was even taken in by the famous Cottingley Fairies hoax.

Groovy Quotes

Mrs. Hudson: He’s killed the dog. Again.

Sherlock Holmes: You’ve never complained about my methods before.
Dr. Watson: I’ve never complained! When have I ever complained about you practicing the violin at three in the morning? Or your mess? Your general lack of hygiene or the fact that you steal my clothes?
Sherlock Holmes: We have a bartering system.

Sherlock Holmes: Madame, I need you to remain calm and trust me, I’m a professional. Beneath this pillow lies the key to my release.

Palm Reader: Brothers. Not in blood, but in bond.

Sherlock Holmes: Data, data, data! I cannot make bricks without clay.

Dr. Watson: Relax… I’m a doctor.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These

  • Iron Man
  • Sherlock Holmes (The Strange Case of Alice Faulkner)
  • The Prestige

4 comments

  1. The Raffles stories aren’t bad? Those stories are terrific but virtually unknown. I often think a film chronicling the exploits of Raffles and Bunny would make for fine viewing. The 70s British television series certainly did the stories Justice. They’re all up on youtube if you haven’t seen them.

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