What happens when two polar British icons collide?

In one corner, we have Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is of course a literary creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a brilliant London-based “consulting detective”, famous for his intellectual prowess and renowned for his skillful use of astute observation, deductive reasoning and forensic skills to solve difficult cases.

In the other corner, we have Guy Ritchie. Ritchie is of course a film director, best known for his movies about the British crime underworld, which involve hyperkinetic editing, different narrative perspectives and extreme quirky characterizations. Films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and the recent Rocknrolla.

So what do you think happens when Guy Ritchie makes a Sherlock Holmes movie? What, indeed.

My own memories of the celluloid Sherlock Holmes are derived from two sources. First, we have the 14 films from 1939 to 1946 starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson. Rathbone plays Holmes as a debonair, suave detective and very straight. Note however, that the stories are set during World War II, and were thus updated for modern times. Good old-fashioned fun, with my favourite being the Scarlet Claw. Secondly, we have the 80s British TV series starring Jeremy Brett, who portrayed Holmes as an arrogant, stand-offish, know-it-all.

Obviously, whilst Ritchie bases his movie firmly in Victorian times, he has had to update the characters for a modern audience. Thus, there is considerably more action here than any other Sherlock Holmes film in living memory. Yes, boys and girls, welcome to the blockbuster version of Sherlock Holmes!

The plotline is as hackneyed as they come – maniacal evil mastermind schemes to take over England and hence the world & Holmes and Watson must stop him. Alright, so its a little more than that. Ritchie presents his take on Holmes with some post-modern story-telling techniques. For example, before Holmes encounters a foe, Ritchie freezes the frame and goes slo-mo as Holmes projects his thoughts concerning his plan before execution. Which is fine but then, Ritchie actually repeats the sequence in real time, which is a waste of time.

Ritchie tries his best to balance the hi-octane action set pieces with the obligatory Holmes deductory passages, which tends somewhat – maybe unintentional – to slow down the pacing of the movie. This makes the movie seem overlong, towards the end I actually began to yawn as Holmes launched into another explanation. And after that, at the end, the movie feels like an extended prelude to the sequel, which will feature arch-enemy Professor Moriarty.

Comeback kid Robert Downey Jr. is quite clearly reveling in this role, even though for the first half of the film, it can be rather challenging to decipher his English accent. Jude Law comes across well playing Dr. Watson as a hard man. There is a good chemistry between the two and after Iron Man, its easier to buy Downey Jr. as an action hero, even if you have trouble accepting Holmes as one.

So like many other of the big films released 2009, Sherlock Holmes is a bit of mixed bag. That said, the pictures look fabulous and Ritchie’s vision of Victorian London is sumptuous. Which makes Sherlock Holmes, despite my reservations, an enjoyable movie. Expect the sequel in two to three year’s time and if its half the film that the Dark Knight, then it deserves to be made.

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