Guy Ritchie sure took his time going mainstream. His 1998’s indie film debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was very commercial, but he didn’t really embrace the studio system until 2009’s Sherlock Holmes. I guess that’s what happens when you marry Madonna. Sherlock Holmes is perfect material for Ritchie, it’s stylized, British, but with a smart enough script and some fine leading performances. Robert Downey Jr. plays the famous titular detective with Jude Law as Dr. Watson, his long suffering partner in crime (catching). This time they’re after Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), who was hung, but has seemingly returned from the grave to get his revenge. On their side is possibly Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who’s a clever thief and an old flame of Holmes. My review of the Blu-ray of Sherlock Holmes after the jump.
This time out Sherlock Holmes, as played by Robert Downey Jr., is a mixture of the classic figure of the profound genius, and an all-purpose action hero with a taste of Downey Jr. doing his thing – a sort of crackpot genius who finds it hard to venture out of his own head. Jude Law’s Dr. Watson is best described as a loving but patronized bottom. The film begins as they’re after Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), who’s been conducting satantic-y rituals. They catch him in the act, but after being caught he threatens his resurrection, and manages to come back after being pronounced dead by Watson himself. This is the main drama, but Holmes is beset by Irene (McAdams), who’s been set to spy on Holmes by a mysterious teacher-type, so there’s something of a love interest, though romantically there chemistry is modest in comparison to that between Holmes and Watson.
With the detectives on the chase (assisted by copper Eddie Marsan), they move from mystery to fight scenes with considerable ease, and the film benefits from having a sort of – bot breathless – but definitely engaged and moving forward narrative. For the viewer, however – though the pieces are laid out and it doesn’t cheat – there’s no sense of ever getting ahead of the mystery as the pieces that come together aren’t of the sort that the audience can put together whilst watching. So there’s an element of Rube Goldberg, but you don’t see all the moves. But Downey Jr. is man enough to be so clever on screen that you buy he put all the pieces together even if the audience can’t. And that’s why the movie works. Downey Jr. is such the performer that you can get sucked in to what he’s doing and figure him a genius.
The positive is that the leads are charming and the direction is assured. It’s nothing more than a tone piece, with enough action and nonsense – and there is nothing going on under the surface – but it’s engaging enough while it happens to give the film a pass. It’s high concept, and there are things to hem about, for instance, Ritchie has a style trick to show how Holmes thinks about a fight before it happens. It’s great visual way to show how Holmes thinks, but the limitations of the film is that it only happens in the first act of the narrative. I guess you could call it setting up the character, but since it happens twice you expect Holmes to be wrong with it at least once, or for it to pay off bigger. It doesn’t. It’s a perfect sort of Sunday afternoon movie.
Warner Brothers presents the film on Blu-ray with a DVD and Digital copy included. The film is presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD. The transfer is perfect. There’s no commentary per se, but there is a Maximum movie mode, which allows Ritchie to walk you through the film when he chooses, along with a PIP window, and access to focus points (31 min.) and still galleries. This is an okay way to make special features exciting, but so far all the filmmakers have looked awkward in front of the camera, and I don’t know if anyone has gotten it yet to the point that I think this works. There’s also the featurette “Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented” (14 Min.) which tells you how fresh, but also how loyal this is to the original material.