Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan
Plot: When a convict on Death Row (Strong) rises from the Dead, great detective Sherlock Holmes (Downey Jr) must figure out how he did it.
I have a very unpopular opinion of preferring Downey Jr’s interpretation of iconic Victorian detective, Sherlock Holmes, to Benedict Cumberbatch’s. This is likely to cause uproar amongst fans of the famed BBC modern reboot, but truthfully, the two variations of the character are so dissimilar that having a preference should not be seen as an insult to either actor, but a comment on which style of Holmes mystery you prefer.
Once upon a time, the very prospect of Guy Ritchie touching a Sherlock Holmes story would have been met with riots and bloody murder. Famous for the ‘ard as nails London gangster movies, it seemed like a match made in hell. Even if Ritchie has refrained from having Watson played by a scowling Jason Statham, this version of Sherlock Holmes is miles away from the procedural comfort of Jeremy Brett’s run. Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes can be seen spending his free time bare-knuckle fighting in underground rings and poisoning his faithful dog, Gladstone. However, while purists will likely grumble under their breath at Ritchie liberally turning a canonical hero into the latest action hero, surely ripping Holmes out of his Victorian era is the same sort of offense. Then it is down to a question of taste and Robert Downey Jr’s quick-firing mile-a-second story grips me more than the intellectual riddles of the BBC show. In terms of performance, there couldn’t be more different. While both actors are given the script notes of ‘eccentric, anti-social genius’, the approaches to the role are miles apart. Cumberbatch is a reclusive, psychologically damaged individual, quietly hating the world around him. Downey Jr. goes for the more bonkers approach, his hero a verified oddball, bouncing around settings like a cross between a puppy dog and a stoner. Cumberbatch’s performance is all but devoid of charm, his softer moments coming after hard-earned time spent with his frosty exterior. Robert Downey Jr. hits charm offensive continuously – as the actor is excellent at doing – his character coming across as a nice guy, who simply isn’t too socially inept to properly communicate his fondness of the people around him. He is superbly paired with Jude Law’s stoic Watson. Actors given Watson have the harder job to do, being forced to work as the glorified sidekick character. It is only in recent years that the character has found a voice in the stories. Martin Freeman grounded the BBC show, but Jude Law represents the old-fashioned gentleman figure, who looks like he has no idea how he ended up with Holmes. When Downey Jr. and Jude Law are together, the movie is at its best, this bromance clear to everyone but the two characters. The actors play it phenomenally, their hard-shelled macho man caricatures, breaking in glorious softer moments.
But the lion’s share of the credit must go to Guy Ritchie for doing the impossible and keeping his movie firmly set in his own brand of Guy Ritchie imagination, but also allowing the ‘Holmesness’ of it to breathe so freely. While cynics will, of course, remain unconvinced, the truth is that this is the film that proved that Guy Ritchie was more than a ‘gimmicky’ film-maker, with one genre under his belt. There are some great Guy Ritchie flourishes here, his main addition to the Holmes arsenal being fight scenes that are decelerated down to mesmerising slow-motion, as Robert Downey Jr. details his fight tactics. Then the same fight is replayed in real time, ending up in a lightning quick punch-up where the enemy is dispatched in the space of a few heartbeats. It is inventive, new and will have audiences wondering why Holmes has never been told with such cinematic style before. However, this film really takes off when it shows off that it can match the intelligence of the story with the style. Ritchie writes up a wonderful Holmes mystery where a seemingly magic occurrence – a criminal rising from the dead and killing people in supernatural fashion – has a scientific, rational explanation. As the film gets dafter and dafter, Ritchie drags it back with a neat finish, as Holmes swiftly explains everything in a satisfying manner. You will not be able to keep up, Downey Jr’s quickfire delivery superbly suited to Sherlock Holmes’ character, but that does not matter. It keeps Holmes fresh for a rewatch and proves that this movie can enchant without needing to hang onto every word. By the end of the film, you are left hungry for more. The game is most certainly afoot.
Final Verdict: Who would have thought Guy Ritchie would be able to handle Sherlock Holmes with such ease? A resounding success.