Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

ON

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes
Photo: Warner Bros.

As a big fan of both Robert Downey Jr. and director Guy Ritchie my hopes were high for Sherlock Holmes, and it does succeed on some levels, but it never really rises above a one note comedic routine with a mystery at its core. I should also mention I have never read a single word of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novels and have no idea if this adaptation holds true to the source material or deviates drastically. If you’re looking for that kind of commentary I just can’t oblige, but I will say it’s entertaining as a theatrical outing and sets itself up nicely for franchise capabilities. However, in its attempt to kick start a franchise it does feel as if this one is bloated and trying to disguise the fact it’s a bit weak when it comes to story.

The film establishes Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) as a highly sought after, yet easily bored detective of quite the eccentric sort. With him is his sidekick Dr. John Watson played by Jude Law. Downey and Law make for an entertaining pair and it is their performances and banter back-and-forth keeping this film from getting too boring, but it also makes for that “one note” element I referred to earlier.

At its core, Sherlock Holmes is a 19th century buddy cop movie. It’s hardly any different than the set up for Lethal Weapon with Watson taking on the role of Danny Glover as the level-headed one interested in retiring from the detective business and Sherlock is Mel Gibson, the eccentric one that just gets things done, but not without making a mess. The bond formed between the two culminates in a very well done scene late in the film, but everything the two get involved in just isn’t that interesting.

Holmes soon finds himself engaged in a case dealing with the villainous Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Blackwood dabbles in black magic and following his recent hanging has risen from the dead and is attempting to take over the country with his diabolical plan. Mu hu ha ha haaa! None of this feels new and for as adventuresome and entertaining as Watson and Holmes are as a duo, the action sequences never seem to live up to the lead in as Holmes finds obvious satisfaction in the challenge presented by his resurrected foe.

I’ve heard some complaints regarding Sherlock’s use of action and hand-to-hand combat. Apparently there seems to be a disagreement on just how much of a physical force Sherlock was in Doyle’s stories, because he is quite capable here. Ritchie has also brought his signature editing style to the proceedings taking the opportunity to not only show off Holmes’s talent as a martial artist, but to also show how his superior intellect plays a role in his winning moves. It’s an interesting approach, but it almost felt old before I even saw it played out to completion.

The highlight is undoubtedly Downey and Law as a detective team — as it should be. This is actually the kind of role I love seeing Jude Law in, one where he gets to have some fun and show off a rather interesting bit of comedic timing. He’s got a unique look and I think it plays well in conjunction with Downey’s rather over-the-top and erratic portrayal of Holmes.

Mark Strong wasn’t given much to work with as Blackwood. To tell you the truth it was a character that never really felt all that menacing, especially considering the threat he was said to have posed. Holmes never seemed concerned or worried about Blackwood as much as he was merely curious as to how he was pulling of all of his “tricks.” As a result, each scene felt like a simple stepping stone to figuring out a puzzle the audience is never much made a part of. While I was never ahead of the game, I was never thinking there was much at stake, which eliminated most of the tension.

If you’re wondering about Rachel McAdams, she plays an important role in the film, but I would never say she was used to the fullest. The only characters that even remotely seem fully fleshed out are Holmes and Watson and while they are the primary leads of the feature, the fact their opponents and allies can’t match up is a problem.

I would say if you are interested in seeing Sherlock Holmes then by all means check it out in theaters. There is enough spectacle and back-and-forth between Holmes and Watson to make it worthwhile. Just don’t set your hopes too high. I have a hard time believing people will come out of the film and say they weren’t entertained, but I think many will say it doesn’t live up to the billing or initial expectations. Here’s to hoping the sequel will change all that.

GRADE: B-