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Sherlock Holmes

Christmas Day. Hundreds of millions celebrate, tens of millions have the day off, millions head to one of the few places open and collectively spend billions. Hint: It's not Chinese food joints or drug-stores I'm speaking of. It's the cinema. I'm one of thousands of employees who work on Christmas day, in movie theaters nationwide, to feed the insatiable American monster-- Yule-tide escapism. However, even I get excited for films this time of year.

The movies provide one of the few situations in which people can sit next to their families, spend time with them, and (hopefully) not hear their voices. Seeing as receiving a Christmas-y cold shoulder spurred on by tragedies such as divorce, death, or disownment are less appealing methods to achieve quiet many are willing to part with the ~$10 per admission to seize the magic of cinema and familial silence.

Studios plant their most serious block-buster hopefuls to open around, if not on, Christmas day not least of which is Sherlock Holmes directed by Guy Ritchie. It's opening weekend fell short of beating the cool blue 75 million dollars James Cameron's alien epic, Avatar, raked in Christmas weekend but was no slouch, bringing in 64.5 million dollars. But those are sales numbers, the question remains, "Was it any good?"

My initial reaction, in short, was "YES!" In long, "YEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSS! (but not without it's flaws)." Perhaps it'll be more clear once these three are addressed: acting, plot, and cinematography.

I'm impressed with casting over-all. Downey Jr. (Holmes) clearly brings personal experience into his character where it is needed and politely leaves it at the door where it is not. Holmes' mannerisms and habits as a reckless genius are projected flawlessly and with clear thought behind the motives of the character. Throughout the entirety of the film I never found myself comparing that version of Sherlock Holmes with a character from another movie or someone else that Downey Jr. has played. I could think of comparison if I wanted to but they didn't come to me naturally. He was distinctly Sherlock.

Still, while the accent was well done it was muddy. Sometimes I would miss a line Downey quipped and was disappointed every time fearing I had missed something hilarious or important. I realize muddy accents are a reality but I wouldn't have minded toning down the integrity of the accent (if only half a point) for greater clarity of the dialogue. As impressed as I was with Robert Downey Jr., I was actually even more impressed with Jude Law.

Jude Law put a fantastic spin on Watson but with a duo as old as Holmes and Sherlock modern adaptations are sure to take some creative liberties with the canon. A younger, but still wise and practically minded, Watson is a comforting change. It breathes life into the old-man while maintaining him as a perfect counter-balance to Sherlock Holmes. Law elevates Dr. Watson from the shadows of side-kickdom without becoming annoying and trying to steal all of the spotlight.

Rachel McAdams' character, whom I cared for so little I didn't even bother to remember her name, is aggravatingly neutral. Perhaps it is not her fault as it seems the writing didn't give her much to work with (which will be covered later). Am I supposed to like her? Is she a villain? Hero? Do I even care? No, no I don't. I don't care about her and I'm ashamed to admit that this character had to exist. Certaintly, she moves the plot forward but I can think of at least three other ways the plot could have been put in motion without her. My theory is Holmes had to have some love-interest written in for him because there is scarcely a character in any modern movie who can walk two blocks without signs of a female-love interest lest the audience start instinctively bearing homosexual suspicions.

All the blame can't be put on Ms. McAdams. Watson had a love interest the writers must of seen it a natural thing to give Holmes one (or else face the audience's arched eyebrows concerning just why Holmes dare seem reluctant to meet Watson's said fiance). The problem is with the audience thirsting to see a love story thrown into an otherwise respectable thriller, action, mystery. It's like mixing vampires with sparkles and moody teen angst-ridden relationships. But I won't go there.
Side note: I'm perfectly at ease with saying I may have over-stated this last point.

Speaking of writing, the aforementioned dialogue is witty, the majority of the characters are well-developed and the plot mixes science, occultism and the key Holmes' rationalization into a crafted-web of events. In fact, the story is markedly satisfying and Holmes would make a fine mystery film if the pacing wasn't on caffeine pills. Only a few science-fiction-esque devices are used and none are so ridiculous that it completely shattered the illusion of the story. One or two machines that don't even exist in modern day, if properly placed and explained, are acceptable. I won't quibble over that. I will quibble about how the film assumes I have the attention span of a fruit fly with ADHD.

It moves too fast. Whether it is because the film doesn't want the audience to figure anything out ,in order to make Sherlock Holmes seem all the more genius, or the director was trying to prevent an Avatar or Lord of the Rings length screen-time the scene changes and sequence of events have a tendency to move at break-neck speed at inappropriate times. I wish I would've had that chance to piece together the mystery myself before Holmes, along with a flash-back montage, explained absolutely every-last detail in one of the last scenes. The movie is clearly set-up for a sequel, perhaps more than one, so maybe over-time I can practice deducing faster than Homles himself. It's the only hope I have, in that regard.

Finally, cinematography. Lack of mega-expensive super camera lens, and souped up CGI, technology James Cameron has heralded in his recent effort few expenses were denied for the film. The frame spins around buildings, climbs unfinished bridges, dives into sewers, hides and reveals characters to create palpable suspense that's simply grin-worthy. London has come alive with all the dirt and grit of the industrial age and it's beautiful.

Excellent use of slow-motion is used in ways reminiscent of the recent Watchmen, 300, and Inglorious Basterds. It must be some sort of post-modern film trend-- using slow-motion violence to satisfy some primitive desire for violence and combining it with a dry, sarcastic irony to make an artistic, intellectual, or social point. In Sherlock Holmes it is utilized several times to introduce the character of Sherlock Holmes. The way he fights helps us know how he thinks and how he thinks helps know just who he is. So while it is similar to recent movies that have partaken themselves to fist-fights a definite purpose is there so it isn't simply violence for the sake of playing with slow-motion effects.

If you just want to have fun, escape from the noise for an hour or so, or simply want a film that mixes action and light-mystery in a whimsical, humorous manner see this film. Perhaps some will actually find themselves taken in with the love-interest sub-plot-line. You won't leave the theater contemplatively, the movie ensures most of the thinking is done by Holmes for you, but you may be thinking of your favorite scenes and especially the best one-liners. The Christmas season may be early but it's not to late to sneak in a winter escape.

Run-time: 128 minutes
Date Viewed: December 30, 2009
Rating: 4/5
Release Date: December 25, 2009

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kiteflyer said...
Jan. 9, 2010 at 10:23 am
What a great review! I'll be sure to check out the movie, sounds pretty good. Nicely written!
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