In an annoying but impossible to overcome state of affairs, I’ve often been turned away from art in general (music, artworks, acting, writing) when I find that the mind behind the art is a git. One of my friends told me that either Gary Crew or Garry Disher (I now cannot remember which) said that women are terrible writers; I now don’t read either, or any other Garries just in case. Musicians with extreme drug problems piss me off, but I figure if I stop listening to musicians who take any drugs at all I’ll be stuck listening to people like the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus and I may as well just fling myself off a bridge now. Actors who have affairs and let their egos run their lives mean there are movies I can’t always be bothered with. I’m a prude. What can you do?
All this means that Sherlock Holmes and its two tabloid-headline stars should have been something I’d be getting on my soapbox and whining about. Jude Law has long been someone I didn’t like, because he always seemed smarmy and annoying even before it turned out he’d been bonking the nanny of his eleven thousand children. Robert Downey Jr had some high-profile drug problems, but, luckily for him, they were mostly when I was a lot younger and I’m vague on the facts, and also he made Iron Man which was a surprisingly brilliant movie. So we had two maybes, but the name that tipped me into seeing the movie—apart from Holmes, of course—was Guy Ritchie. Sure, his most recent outings haven’t been well received, but I love Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, sensibly never saw Swept Away and really didn’t mind RocknRolla. He makes it, I’ll be there.
And as always, his casting is flawless. Downey Jr is brilliant as the flawed genius Sherlock Holmes, and Jude Law is finally cast properly as the moustachioed Dr Watson. Watson is intelligent, reserved, wants to live a stable life but can’t bear his friend getting into scrapes without him, and the British Jude plays him perfectly. Eddie Marsan, recently alarming as the batshit driving instructor from Happy-Go-Lucky, plays bumbling Inspector Lestrade and is frequently made a fool of by Holmes. Rachel McAdams continues to be wonderful as Irene Adler, Holmes’ love interest and adversary, but is being controlled by a character who is always in shadow and mysterious unless you have a basic knowledge of Holmes lore. Period actor Hans Matheson froths with power as the hilariously titled Lord Coward, and Sunshine crazy Mark Strong’s slicked-back hair frightens admirably atop nemesis Lord Blackwood.
Another of Ritchie’s talents lies in sound design and music; while this movie doesn’t having the banging sixties-plus music that his other soundtracks have, the raucous organ pieces suit the movie perfectly and the dulled effects after someone gets hit in the ear or have an explosion happen near their head (surprisingly frequent) make the entire film really quite immersive. The sets are gritty and expansive; the shenanigans uproarious, the fight scenes bloody and the whole thing a great Boxing Day antidote to Christmas.
Unlike the deductive reasoning of smartypants Poirot, a lot of the clues to this were chemistry-based and not that easy for the audience to figure out. It wallowed in cliché a little when the final fisticuffs occur atop a London landmark and end in an injury convenient to comments made seconds earlier; also, the secret society plotline hovered somewhere between From Hell and Da Vinci Code. But the amicable chemistry between the two leads, who squabbled amusingly like brothers, was great fun to witness, despite the immaturity. In one scene Sherlock points a violin bow at Watson; Watson says, “Get that thing out of my face” and Holmes replies, “It’s not in your face, it’s in my hand.” The audience giggles. Anachronistic perhaps, but fun all the same.
The movie doesn’t really need me to give a summary. There’s Holmes, there’s Watson, there’s a mystery. Fighting and girls and bangs, disguises and rolling about in carriages and pipe-smoking and steam-powered boating down the Thames. A bad guy in a big coat and criminal sidekicks with daft expressions.
And to make the purists giddy with glee, as in the books there is not any moment in the movie when Holmes says, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”