Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

2009, US, directed by Guy Ritchie

Guy Ritchie discards most of the mythology of previous Holmes screen adaptations, most obviously the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films of the 1930s/1940s and the Jeremy Brett television series of the 1980s, in order to reinvent Holmes and Watson for a new generation - a little like the recent retooling of the James Bond franchise, with this film making no secret of its sequel ambitions. That kind of reinterpretation is hardly a new thing for Holmes given that Universal set its Holmes-Watson films in the 1940s after it acquired the rights to series from Twentieth-Century Fox, which had retained the Victorian setting for two outings in 1939. Indeed, this film's wacky plot seems like something plucked from one of the early 1940s Holmes movies, which were filled with wartime spies and similar shenanigans.

The new film comes close to obliterating the distinction between Holmes and Watson, here seen as far more of a complementary pair rather than as brains and charming-though-limited sidekick. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since there was always something vaguely patronising about Holmes's relationship to his doughty, and doughy, assistant. Here, Jude Law's Watson is more than able to puncture his colleague's often overbearing manner, while Robert Downey Jr's Holmes is able to use his intelligence both to direct his eye and his impressive fists. While there's not a whole lot of time to think during Ritchie's breathless telling of the tale, there were a few rather enjoyable touches of grimy authenticity in his version of Victorian London - authenticity wasn't much in evidence in the Rathbone-Bruce years - particularly the presence of plenty of Irish accents among the minor players, as opposed to the exclusively Cockney voices heard in many other screen adaptations.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States