Friday, March 22, 2013

In-Class Movie: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

“Mr. Sherlock Holmes has achieved public renown through a series of stories which, though gaudy and sensational, are based at least partly on truth.”
--Anthony Horowitz, “The House of Silk”

Austin: All right. Time to review one of the big Sherlock Holmes adaptations. As we continue to tease our eventual reviews of BBC's Sherlock, let's look at how Hollywood handled the material. Guy Ritchie is a director known for his gritty British crime movies like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. After a couple of flops, he teamed up with a major studio to make this $90 million tentpole action movie.

This movie doesn't have the raw style of his early films, but as a routine thriller it does have a few fun visual touches in during its large action stunts which involve our heroes running through elaborate sets and avoiding giant obstacles. But when there are a few people talking about the mystery in a room, then it seems like Guy Ritchie took a nap and said "Just point the camera at the face that's talking. Let me know when it's time to blow stuff up."

The reflection on the visual enthusiasm matches the audience's reaction to the rest of the movie. There isn't any cleverness in the mystery; none of the characters are that smart and nothing really is that consistent. If Sherlock Holmes could use his genius deductions to predict the next five moves of a fistfight, why can't he run a foot to the left when a barrel is thrown at him from several feet away?

And yet...dammit, the fight scenes are a lot of fun, especially the one at the docks in the middle of the movie.

"Watson, what have you done? And when I ask that, please, keep in mind I avoided the obvious fart joke."

So does this work as a summer action movie (that came out during the also profitable Christmas season) and does it work as a Sherlock Holmes movie? 

Leigh: First, Mark Strong makes a great bad guy. He has that low, gravely bad guy voice down. He should play every bad guy.

Second, we should try to make "boy-o" a thing... Along with "fetch." 

"Fetch it, boy-o."

Guy Ritchie likes his boxing scenes doesn't he? I'm a huge fan of Guy Ritchie. I really enjoy his grittiness that he is known for and that his take on Sherlock Holmes definitely doesn't lack that dirt. One problem with period movies is that they tend to romanticize things and if there is one thing that is always left out of movies about Victorian London is how absolutely filthy it was. A quickly industrializing city without any sort of environmental regulations tends to lead to smog, fog and dirt all over. Ritchie got that grim and showed it. 

As I've said before, this was my first real introduction to Sherlock Holmes. For anyone who wants a good introduction, I think this movie might be it. It is exciting enough to keep your attention but "brainy" enough to stay interesting when there isn't a fight going on. Sure, the mystery isn't that exciting or complex but it does have its twists and turns and isn't THAT predictable. 

After studying Sherlock Holmes as much as I have, the one opinion I have that hasn't changed and that's the actors’ portrayal of these characters. Robert Downey Jr. is really good at playing a half-cracked genius (almost like he's had some practice at it) and this is Jude Law's best role. These two together have a fine bromance and show the relationship between Holmes and Watson really well. Watson is more of Holmes' equal and Holmes is lost without his Watson, as it should be. I'm not a fan of Rachel McAdams but then again, I'm not a fan of Irene Adler's role in this movie at all. I'm a firm believer that Adler and Holmes are not romantically linked but this movie insists on it. The movie wouldn't work without her role unfortunately and it also wouldn't have been so popular without the sexy love interest. 

Overall, it's a thoroughly enjoyable action movie. I still enjoy watching it every once in a while.

So now that we've dissected the director, the actors and the looks of it, what about the actual mystery? What do you think of how the audience is given the clues? And where do I know that gypsy woman from?

Austin: Mark Strong is great. I forget what critic said it when the movie came out, but I agree in thinking I would like to see his Sherlock Holmes.

"This should have been my movie.....And if everything goes according to plan, it will be again."

Well this movie was a mixture of muddy London and Hollywood perfect London. Couldn't help but notice that our heroes always had sparkling white teeth--except for when they were in an elaborate disguise. Yet I did enjoy the production design of the places mixed with their use of mud.

My problem with the mystery isn't that it's predictable, it's that it's unsolvable and always feels like an afterthought. Barely a spoiler: Mark Strong doesn't die in the first act. Near the end they bother to explain how he escaped dying at the noose. It was a two step process: One involved information that the audience never had any privilege to and the other step involved a concoction from an exotic country that may as well have been called a magic potion. The whole movie we know it's Mark Strong. It's almost impossible to care about how he's doing anything. It seems like the real mystery element of the movie is: "Did Hollywood really add black magic to the plot or is that a hoax?" Seeing how they handle beloved properties, that question really could have gone either way.

Yet with my general problems with the script and its structure, the stars make this movie. Robert Downey Jr. is a wonderful Sherlock because he, once again, finds his own take on it. The movie's take is an action film, but Downey Jr.'s take is a charming child. He can't take care of himself, he's silly and curious. So in that regard, Watson is less of an equal and more of a friendly caretaker. I've never seen an adaptation where Watson had so little patience for Sherlock and that comes down to living so long with such an immature roommate. It's unsettling to see Watson so annoyed with Sherlock for the duration, but it's fun because Jude Law is as charming as Robert Downey Jr. Their humor together makes this an easily rewatchable film, despite its flaws.

And then Rachel McAdams has a flat performance because the character is written so poorly. I'm fine with them being romantic; I'm not fine with Sherlock in love with such a dull and boring character especially after so much dialog saying she is the opposite. We never get to see her be devious and cunning because she is under the control of Moriarty the entire time. It's hard to tell that this character ever outsmarted Sherlock in anything, which is too bad because I like Rachel McAdams and if she had a better script I bet she could have pulled it off. (Everybody watch Slings and Arrows on Netflix!)

And I know the gypsy woman best from the lovely Alan Parker movie The Commitments.

Am I being too harsh on the plot or are there things to save from it? Keep in mind this is a plot I watched closely yesterday and may have forgotten all over again. It has something to do with explosions...


Now that you mention it, it does seem like the movie is confused as to whether or not the magic is real. I think that most of the movie, it wants you to think that this black magic stuff is real but then in the last five minutes, it says that it isn't without really giving a good explanation as to why it isn't. I'm okay with magic in movies, hell, I love the Harry Potter movies (3, 5-7.2. 4 can go jump off of a cliff), but those movies have a set of rules and follows them (most of the time). This movie tries to make a universe where magic is a possibility and then shrugs it off and ignores it. And I don't think that a Sherlock Holmes and the Magical Wizard of Little Whinging would be out of place. ACD spent a good portion of his later years exploring the possibility of magic being real and chasing faeries. So I don't think that ACD would roll in his grave at the idea, but in this movie and this universe, it feels about as natural as a giraffe in a scuba suit.

I've only seen Rachel McAdams in three roles: this, The Notebook (I was forced to watch it) and Mean Girls. I only liked her in one of these roles and if you guessed Mean Girls then you are right. (I regularly say, "Boo, you whore!") There is a difference between a great actress and a great actress when she has a good script/part/director. This might be controversial, but I don't think that Natalie Portman is that great of an actress. My evidence being that in the Star Wars movies, she was god-awful. Sure, most of the actors in that movie were god awful but you know who wasn't? Ewan McGregor and that's because he is a damn good actor. When Portman has a great script and/or director, she is wonderful but the rest of the time she is meh. Good actors will take what they're given and work with it even if it's a few scribbles on a cocktail napkin. (I have gotten completely off subject here. Where was I?)

"I'm like totally a world-class criminal, like for realz."

The plot is perfect for the movie that it was in. It wasn't trying to be an art film or even an independent film, it was a blockbuster from the get go. The large budget with huge stars shows that. They have to appeal to the lowest common denominator and since that's pretty low in the US, they had to appeal to that, hence the over abundance of explosions and fires and seemingly unprovoked fights with giant Frenchmen. As a friend of mine says, this movie entertains the stupid-monkey part of my brain. When I want to think or be moved or be inspired, I am not going to watch this, but when I want something fun and with characters that I know and love already, I'm going to pop it in the Blu-Ray player. (My copy is on Blu-Ray and if I had more time I would've checked out all of the special features but I didn't even know they existed until last night. There are A LOT of them though if you're in to that sort of thing.)

Next time we go to see a man about a horse!

And now Austin Lugar with the final word…

Austin: Depravity!

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