Sherlock Holmes adapts the eccentric detective through narrative mysticism and visual flair. Victorian London, 221B Baker Street. Home to the medically inclined Dr. John Watson and the reclusive yet ingenious private detective Sherlock Holmes. Embarking on many mysterious crimes that the city police have the intellectual incapacity to investigate. Missing person? Done. Unresolved murder? Easy. Stolen jewellery? Say no more.
1890, a ritualistic murder performed by the seemingly mystical Lord Blackwood is interrupted by Holmes and Watson, after asserting dislocations to several patellas and jaws. Blackwood, now sentenced to death for the grisly slaughtering of five women, forewarns Holmes of additional murders to come. “Steal your mind, Holmes, I need you”, he gently whispers. Graciously ignored, Blackwood is hanged, only to defy the laws of nature and resurrect himself a day later. Inexplicable actions aside, London is shrouded in terror, and it’s up to Holmes and Watson to solve this mystery enveloped in both science and magic.
Ritchie’s adaptation of Conan Doyle’s legendary literary figure, is undoubtedly his best non-British gangster film. There, it’s been said! The director himself has a peculiar style. Very frenetic, often hyperactive. An aesthetic quality that seamlessly harmonises with the eponymous fictitious character and his personality. The eccentricities, from the elongated narrational splurges of explanations streaming from Holmes’ consciousness to the erratic behaviour perpetuating the unsociable skills he has acquired, are brilliantly captured in a story that is essentially moulded by them. Each uniquely discovered clue, whether that be an object or a location, usually leads the pair into a brawl with some “propa” feisty henchmen, including a colossal French behemoth aptly named Dredger. Ritchie effortlessly merges the mystery elements of a classic Conan Doyle novel with the general entertainment of a blockbuster, even if this diverts from the source material, without diminishing the overall investigation.
There’s a narrative buoyancy that maintains a level of humour and amusement throughout, mostly due to the hugely accessible screenplay. When it’s not inserting substantial amounts of foreshadowing (trust me, there’s a lot…), the script primarily focusses on the amicable friendship between Holmes and Watson, exploring the differing qualities they inhibit and emphasising their contrasts. Considering Watson desires to become happily married and remove Holmes’ eccentricities from his life, he can’t let go of the adrenaline. The two, often bickering like a married couple, supply the energy Ritchie’s feature requires. Holmes’ exaggerated bohemianism granting him several memorable scenes and asserting the character’s peculiarities almost immediately, such as utilising musical theory to create order from chaos with a group of harmless flies trapped in a glass cylinder (don’t ask…).
Again, the film works solely based on these two, with fantastic central performances to accompany the characters. Downey Jr., exercising his long forgotten ‘Chaplin’ accent, fully embraces Holmes physically and emotionally. The erratic body movements and rapid line delivery were executed exceptionally well, to the point where he became the character. His chemistry with Law, whom excellently portrayed Watson as a typical Victorian-era doctor, was infectious. McAdams, playing the femme fatale love interest, unfortunately was weak in comparison. Assuming the role of an underdeveloped Irene Adler, of which rarely presented any romantic chemistry with Downey Jr., likened the character to a plot convenience than anything else. Strong, typecast as the villain once again, exudes a menacing presence despite the weak showdown atop Tower Bridge that relinquished that terror almost indefinitely.
Supplementing the ornate art direction, is Zimmer’s score. Iconic. Utilising authentic instruments including a “broken pub piano”, banjo and cimbalom, he crafted yet another outstanding composition that brought life to Victorian London. A contender for his best score yet? Quite possibly.
It retains Ritchie’s blend of modern entertainment with ancient stories, that’s what makes Sherlock Holmes enjoyable. Clues percolating into action. Revelations dissolving into ultimatums. He crafted an authentic adaptation that would appeal to the masses, whilst pleasing hardcore fans of the novels. With credible performances to balance out the uneven moments of brutal foreshadowing, Sherlock Holmes solves the case brilliantly and opens himself up to a new potential mystery with his arch-nemesis…