When movies are made based on books like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s series Sherlock Holmes, they inevitably come burdened with extraordinarily high expectations and, from a few die-hard fans, scepticism. After all, you are portraying a character that has been loved and admired by generations of readers, most of whom have their own perception of Holmes in their minds. It is a struggle, both for the actor and the director, to cast aside these prejudices and make a distinctly new impression.
However, this is what Guy Ritchie, the director of the newly released (and much hyped) Sherlock Holmes has tried to do. His Holmes is stocky, built and as ready to settle an argument with a brawl as he is with the brain- a complete contrast to what the thin, lean detective is (popularly) envisioned to be. His Watson is uncharacteristically outspoken, his London is full of smoke and dark alleyways, his heroine has truckloads of spunk with only a hint of a conscience and his villain is sinister. He has managed to bring Holmes out from the dusty pages of books and glamourised him on big screen.
The story begins with Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.), assisted by Dr. Watson (Jude Law) catching Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) in the act of committing murder by sorcery and Blackwood’s subsequent arrest. Three months later Blackwood is hanged, but not without him issuing a dire warning to Holmes. The next day, he rises from the dead and his plans threaten to destroy the world (yes, like all villains) and its upto our hero and his favourite companion to track him down and stop him. Meanwhile, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is sent by a mysterious stranger to distract Holmes from the case as Watson is leaving Holmes to get married. Frankly, Sherlock has a lot on his plate at once.
But he juggles it well. Robert Downey Jr. might not make a very good conventional Holmes but he handles Ritchie’s interpretation of the character with aplomb. He is neurotic yet sensible, sarcastic yet vulnerable and charming yet thoughtlessly rude, all at the same time. It’s no mean feat. He is very believable and makes Holmes more humane than he has ever been seen before. He has also never looked better and seems to fit right into the era when waistcoats and high collars were commonplace; strangely looking equally good practising planned martial arts on an unsuspecting goon.
Jude Law as Watson however, could have made more of an impression. He blends into the background and it is very easy to forget his portrayal of Holmes’s best friend, and even though the character has been given good screen time and some brilliant lines (his repartees with Holmes are very enjoyable), he looks out-of-sync most of the time.
In complete contrast to him, Rachel McAdams is in her element. Portraying the tricky role of Holmes’s love interest, she has done full justice to Irene Adler- a slippery, seductive and brilliant woman. She’s awfully quick during the action sequences- which might have been difficult while wearing cumbersome gowns- and only she can hold a bunch of roses in one hand and a dagger in the other and pull it off. Mark Strong as the villain is suitably dislikeable and his strong voice lends character to the role.
But the real hero of the film is the city itself. Mostly silhouetted by cloudy skies or flashes of lightning, London is seen through a dark grey or yellowish haze which adds to the tone of the film and looks absolutely gorgeous on big screen. Phileppe Rousselot’s cinematography is brilliant and it makes the film a lot more watchable.
Set aside your staid ideas and keep an open mind while watching this one. You’ll enjoy the film a lot more.