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Sherlock Holmes is the proverbial hard act to act.  He has been played by some of the great character actors on both the silver screen (think Basil Rathbone) and TV (Jeremy Brett).  And all of the stories are so familiar that there are worldwide Holmes societies and scholars dissecting the stories. Look for instance at Baring-Gould’s famous annotated edition of the complete stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about Sherlock Holmes.  Holmes has scholars, just as the Bible has scholars, who spend their lives scrutinizing the texts.  Shoot, 221B Baker St. where now a Bank resides, is still receiving mail written to the world’s most famous consulting detective. In this environment, only the truly brave will attempt to do yet another adaptation of Holmes and Watson.

Well if fortune favors the bold, then consider Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law bold.  For one thing Downey is not even British and does not naturally speak with a British accent.  For another thing Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Holmes is so beloved that the backlash could be enormous from all the true aficionados. How could this feat of slight of hand be pulled off without raising the ire of the faithful and without legerdemain?   Elementary, my dear Watson!

First of all team Downey (Susan is the producer of this film, which the ever creative Guy Ritchie directs) decided that they would do their homework.  Some aspects of Holmes past seldom seen on the screen, such as his boxing skills, which are nonetheless included in Conan Doyle’s  portrayal of Holmes, are resurrected and given new life here.   Secondly, this team wisely concluded they should create a fresh story, but with the main characters in character. This avoids the obvious comparisons with the Brett ouevre and other such portrayals which tend to stick strictly to the original story lines.  Thirdly, the decision was made to focus on Holmes as a man of action, rather than just as a man of scintillating deduction and logic, though without leaving out the latter. The result is a non-stop action film with plenty of repartee and comedic scenes along the way. The unkempt Holmes is constantly juxtaposed with the natty soon to be married Watson.  They are an odd, but effective pair.

My one complaint about characterization is that the women in this film are given short shrift.  Mrs. Hudson is given too little attention, and is played by too young a woman and perhaps the same can be said about Irena Adler, though Rachel McAdams does a good job with her part. We could have used a more vivacious Mary for Watson’s fiance as well.

There are however many things to like about this film. The interaction between Law and Downey is worth the cost of the ticket alone. Clearly they are having a good time together, and it is nice to have a less subservient  and intellectually sharper Watson in this film.  Secondly, the recreation of Victorian London is wonderful, giving a real feel for the world of Dickens and Holmes.  Thirdly, the gadgets and gimmicks, and mystery and magic are to the fore in this movie. Despite the sinister nature of the plot led by one apparently resurrected Lord Blackmore to take over Parliament and the world, there is a sort of Mission Impossible or even Bond air to this film with its use of  primitive ‘technology’ and science in this film.  

For two hours and fourteen minutes this films holds our attention, intrigues us, makes us laugh, makes us hold our breath, and reconfirms our need to believe good will eventually triumph over evil (though Professor Moriarity is waiting in the wings for the sequel).  There are some scenes perhaps too intense for small children, but on the whole the language and action in this film makes it a film which has and deserves its PG-13 rating.

I am a long time devoted fan of Sherlock Holmes, and I must say I really enjoyed this portrayal of our hero,much more so than, for instance that of Nicol Willamson some years ago in the Seven Percent Solution. My favorite Holmes however remains Jeremy Brett who has no peer in this role.  But Downey has breathed new life into the Holmes saga, and for this I am very grateful. Once again ‘the game’s afoot!’

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