Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes ended up being perhaps the most pleasant movie going surprise I’ve had this year. A gothic swashbuckling story that manages to be a better adaptation of From Hell without even trying.

I can’t say I had particularly high expectations for Holmes. Guy Ritchie has never been my favorite filmmaker. I like Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, but even in High School I recognized Snatch as a put on (Not that its not a fun put on). Still I have to give Ritchie credit, it takes a lot for a filmmaker to come back from not one but two horrendously misconceived vanity projects and between the “finding my own ground again” but perfectly adequate Rock N’ Rolla and this little gem, he’s made a complete recovery.

It’d be easy enough to give Ritchie credit only for having enough brains to get out of the way of a good story, but I think that sells him short. Despite what his detractors say Ritchie was never a bad filmmaker. Though he certainly made some terrible films. And his best sequences are animated by a naughty little boy’s delight in being somewhere he’s not supposed to go, whether it’s the back room of a high stakes poker game, or a bare knuckle gypsy boxing match. Holmes ends up being more a less a compendium of places you’re not supposed to go. Masonic Chambers, Dank Sewers, Defiled Crypts in which dark rituals are occurring and um… bare knuckle gypsy boxing matches (he does like those doesn’t he). And with Downey and Law he’s found the perfect tour guides.

Though their casting got many purists up in arms, they end up capturing the spirit of Doyle’s characters perfectly, that of barely leashed genius and dogged competence respectively. Richie was smart not to tell this as an origin story, and Law and Downey respond ably convincingly seemingly like two people who have known and depended on each other for years. Mark Strong continues his reign of awesome, with an awesome performance as Lord Blackwood. From the trailers and reviews I was expecting a standard baddy, but Jesus the guy is a FREAK all snaggle teeth, sharp angles, and cool resolve.

But the purists tend to complain anyway. Well here’s the thing most of Sherlock Holmes books are achingly uncinematic, and if truth be told, not particularly exciting. Oh there are bright spots, I’ve always had a soft spot for The Speckled Band, mostly because it scared the ever living crap out of me when I was a kid, and most of the novels are worth a reread, but the majority of Sherlock Holmes stories follow a formula, that’s not a particularly enthralling one (This is ignoring the mysteries that are frankly bad, like the one in which Holmes must solve the mystery of an evil Secret Society named the KKK, only to have said societies boat sink on their way back to America making the whole thing rather moot). The formula basically has someone come to Sherlock Holmes with a problem, Sherlock Holmes leaves in a disguise, and then he comes back and describes how he has solved the case. It’s achingly dull. Oh how I wish I could go back in time to tell Doyle about the wonders of the present tense (Then again he created something that has endured for over a century and I’m blogging about it, so I doubt he’d lose much sleep over it).

Holmes is one of those rare entertainments that gets just about everything right. From its dark palate, energetic performances, to the sinister perfection of it’s Moriarty sequences, and a score by Hans Zimmer that’s on par with (if not as flat out avant garde as his work for The Dark Knight). As good of a reinvigoration as Star Trek was.

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