25 December 2009

At the movies: Sherlock Holmes.

I’ve never been a fan of Director Guy Ritchie. The last time I’d subjected myself to one of his efforts, it was Swept Away, his 2002 collaboration with then-wife Madonna, and it wasn’t so much a film as a violation of the social contract (Actually, the one thing GR had done that I quite liked was the video for Madonna's "What It Feels Like For a Girl," with its amped-up Above & Beyond Remix and bad behavior. But that's not a film). So the idea of him taking on as beloved and intriguing a pair of icons as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson seemed like a particularly sick joke.

So color me surprised; Ritchie’s Holmes is kind of delightful.

It’s certainly made to bring in things that modern audiences will respond to (martial arts, explosions, homoeroticism, the battles between science and religion, sedition, and the limitless palette that computer imaging can give), but it feels kind of right. Robert Downey Jr. isn’t quite the cocaine aficionado of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, but he’s a maladjusted and brilliant mind in the body of a troubled individual- a lonely man prone to benders between cases, a detail-oriented scientist who terrifies London’s more devious minds simply because his precision is both merciless and relentless.

When a bloodthirsty madman is hanged in the first reel, vowing that he would return and our heroes would be entwined within his masterful taking of power, you would correctly assume that this particular story isn’t quite as wrapped up as it appears to be.

Secret orders, chemical warfare, French giants, and a masterful (final bridge battle excepted, sadly) recreation of the filth and bookish mesh of late nineteenth century London are all in order, and the two-plus hours simply flew by.

There’s a lot to like about a big budget blockbuster that emphasizes knowledge over weapons, and as my colleague Sean Burns points out, this film ‘works overtime to present intelligence as another form of badassery,’ which is right on the money and makes me wish I’d thought of it first.

I guess the old saying is true, and this film, The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard, The Pledge, and Into The Wild would certainly bear it out… “Divorce Madonna, become a good director.”

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