Sherlock Holmes
March 28, 2010

I hadn’t seen this Victorian action movie in theaters, so I was glad to see the DVD come out only three months later. I knew there’d been lots of debate over whether this version was really Sherlock Holmes or not, and I wanted to see for myself.

The movie doesn’t play much on what Holmes has come to mean as a brand, but since it’s billed as a “bold reimagining”, fair enough. The Sherlock Holmes film is faithful to the basics of the characters — their close friendship, Holmes’ deadly boredom, Watson explaining the strange genius to other people — while recontextualizing them in a way that fits today’s imagination and enthusiasm.

Sherlock Holmes cover
Sherlock Holmes
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The result is an entertaining movie featuring cute, charming guys with delicious accents who fight and throw wisecracks, in a setting with lots of atmosphere. Robert Downey Jr. is Holmes; Jude Law is Watson; Mark Strong is the demonic villain Lord Blackwood; and Rachel McAdams is the anachronistic but wonderful Irene Adler, the only woman who discomfits Holmes and the only person to outsmart him.

Downey’s performance is, as always, exceptional, supported by a great cast, stunning visuals, and outstanding special effects. He captures the torture that is other people when you’re preternaturally aware of everything around you. And how you can’t be part of their world.

There’s plenty to look at — such as bare-knuckled, bare-chested boxing — and the DVD will certainly come in handy for rewinding and rewatching. Some of Downey’s dialogue is so rapid that it took me more than one listen to follow it. (He’s not the only talky one; Blackwood monologues as well.) In contrast, the fights are easy because he tells you what he’s going to do, and precisely how much damage it will cause, before he does it. It’s a helpful way to get across the idea of just how fast his mind works and how analytic Holmes is when it comes to battle.

I liked this Holmes, a fighter, an inventor, brilliant, obnoxious. And Watson, a real person, a doctor sometimes annoyed with his too-clever friend (and obnoxious roommate, who borrows his clothes), instead of just a sidekick. It’s Holmes as man, not icon. The movie is a visual treat, a thriller with a steampunk flavor. It often made me laugh, it made me curious (about the mystery of Blackwood’s apparently Satanic return from the dead), and it kept me entertained.

The only extra is the 15-minute Revisited featurette, the usual behind-the-scenes piece, lots of fun. It makes me want to drag out my Annotated Sherlock Holmes for another read-through. The Blu-ray is reported to have the picture-in-picture “Maximum Movie Mode”, in which [director] Guy Ritchie talks to you about the film.

Also, those who purchase the Blu-ray as soon as it’s available on March 30 have a chance to join a Live Community Screening with Robert Downey, Jr. on April 1 at 9 PM Eastern. Downey will answer questions in real-time audio as everyone watches the movie together online. (The studio provided a DVD review copy.)

12 Responses  
Kitten writes:  

I liked this version of Holmes and I’m glad you are noting what I liked about it. I especially liked how Holmes told how fights would play out ahead of time. I find that many new action movies have action scenes that I can’t follow for the life of me, and it seemed like the person making this movie has also had that problem.

Also, I love steampunk and my husband and I argued like mad about whether there was a steampunk flavor to this movie. Thus, I’m happy to hear you support my argument. :D

JD writes:  

The only quibble I had with the “fight analysis” sequences is that it felt a bit redundant for them to be then replayed at normal speed just afterwards.

(I liked the little touch that whenever Holmes loses a fight, he hasn’t done the analysis beforehand, suggesting that he might have been a bit too impulsive.)

Tremendously enjoyable movie, I must say.

Kat Kan writes:  

I have been a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories for more than 4 decades, and I truly enjoyed this movie. I even went to see it in the theater, something I don’t do that often any more. I think what I really love about it is Jude Law’s wonderful portrayal of Dr. Watson. I couldn’t stand the old Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Holmes movies, ever since I was a young kid.

Trisha Lynn writes:  

Well, you sold me and convinced me that it has to go on my list. Thanks!

Johanna writes:  

Glad I could help! JD, that’s a good observation about the difference in fight styles. I didn’t notice that on the first time through. I suspect a rewatch will show me several more items in the category of “things I didn’t catch”. And Kat, good point. A waffly fat Watson isn’t accurate anyway.

James Jackson writes:  

An excellent and to use an English term “spot on” review of the Sherlock Holmes movie. I have all the Basil Rathbone Holmes’ movies and have watched them many times. Mr. Rathbone actually looked like the original Sidney Paget Sherlock Holmes illustrations of the 1890s. My favorite Holmes movie was Christopher Plummer’s 1979 Murder by Decree adaptation. Robert Downey’s portrayal tops them all in my opinion. I love the way Guy Ritchie visualized Holmes’ thought processes both before and after the events took place. You mentioned the Annotated Sherlock Holmes which I purchased (with a series E-bond) and read in the 1970s. Sadly it received water damage. This movie inspired me to purchase it again on Ebay and I am currently reading through it. The blu-ray version also includes a digital copy with which I downloaded the movie to my laptop and phone. Thank you again for your perceptive review.

Zap writes:  

I must say that I had misgivings when I heard that Robert Downey Jr. was to play Holmes. Nothing to do with his acting ability but rather his physical appearance. After seeing the film, all is well in Victorian England! It was great! Downey was great! Jude Law was great! Etc., etc. London is presented as the gritty city that it was, Holmes and Watson are tough as nails heroes and Watson is portrayed as being much more intelligent and savvy than in most Holmes adaptations. Sequels (many), please!

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