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Sherlock Holmes

The Game is Afoot Again

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

If you have a mystery that can’t be solved, your best bet is an unshaven, heavy drinking, unbathed, brawling, and admittedly brilliant rogue of a man called Sherlock Holmes. Promptly dismiss whatever images you have in your mind of who Sherlock Holmes is or was, Robert Downey Jr. gives us a Holmes unlike anything seen on screen before and he does so brilliantly.

Sherlock Holmes starts with a bang with Holmes and the ubiquitous Watson (Jude Law) crashing a black arts sacrifice involving Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) and (presumably) a young virgin. Blackwood is promptly sentenced to death and the case is seemingly closed. However, Blackwood’s final request before meeting his maker is a conversation with Holmes.

Naturally, Blackwood promises he will return from his grave and unleash a power unlike anything anyone’s ever seen. Despite Blackwood’s dabblings in the black arts, Holmes is unconvinced until Blackwood is seen walking through the graveyard where his body was interned. Suddenly, the game is afoot as Blackwood’s predictions of death and destruction come to fruition.

Holmes will need every ounce of his brilliant deductive reasoning to crack this case. The Holmes that drives Sherlock Holmes is a rough and tumble man of action as well as a detective of the highest possible order. He’d just as soon shatter a man’s jaw as utter the words, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Downey puts forth what may be his best performance ever and owns the mantle of Holmes in such a way that it’s hard to fathom anyone else doing it. Downey gives us a brilliant, but very troubled, man who has more than his fair share of vices. This Holmes truly straddles the line between genius and madness on a daily basis. Given Downey’s past, it’s not surprising that we get a version of Holmes that is as flawed as he is heroic.

Downey is well complimented by Jude Law who plays Holmes’ constant companion, Watson. The relationship between the two is vaguely homoerotic and director Guy Ritchie plays this dynamic to great comic effect. Law and Downey banter with each other like an old cantankerous couple who like to engage in fisticuffs and solve mysteries.

Solving the mystery of bringing an iconic figure from Victorian England into the 21st century was largely executed by Ritchie and writers Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham. Ritchie injects a kinetic style into Sherlock Holmes that turns what could have been a straight-up mystery into a stylish action/adventure/mystery that works well.

Rather than reinvent Holmes, Johnson and Peckham went back to the basics and leveraged Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original source material. As it so happens, Holmes was a bit of a brawler and an expert swordsman in the books. Likewise, he was disorganized, in constant financial distress, and clearly a bit troubled. What shows up onscreen is a wonderfully screwed up hero.

Ritchie has managed to dust off an iconic character and deliver a solidly entertaining and smart film that will undoubtedly be a major breadwinner this holiday season, and in the future, as a sequel is inevitable). Welcome back, Holmes.