Sherlock Holmes (2009 Film)

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and John Watson (Jude Law)

It was this recent film re-imagining (directed by Guy Richie) that introduced me to Doyle’s classic detective novels. The 2009 movie boasts of a star-studded cast (Downey, Law, McAdams, and Strong), a fancy and gritty Victorian London, catchy Hans Zimmer music, witty Holmesian deductions, and a giant shot of adrenalin (not limited to choke-holds, punches, gunshots, and explosions). Despite the criticism of persons like David Stratton (see Wiki), I think that the action in the film is a faithful consequence of the original novels: The Sign of the Four, the Hound of the Baskervilles, and the other stories do show Holmes and Watson fight their adversaries. If anything, the way Holmes and Watson fight do reflect their characters–Holmes’ analytical prowess is put into his fight scenes just as Watson’s knowledge of the human anatomy and war experience in the Afghan War figure in his strangle-holds and gunshots. Besides, the Holmes of the text does know his boxing, cane-fighting, and baritsu.

What I like best about this movie is its faithful characterizations coming together in an interesting plot. Holmes’ eccentricities and egocentrism shine even as he dreads his friend Watson’s departure from 221B Baker Street to marry Miss Mary Morstan. Watson’s ability to learn and assist Holmes prove the latter’s line, “I am lost without my Boswell.” (And, yes, Jude Law’s interpretation finally asked the question and provided the conclusion–Watson is psychologically disturbed for following Holmes in his cases.) Characters such as the loving Mary Morstan, the resentful Lestrade, alluring Irene Adler (now single again, presumably) and the threatening Professor Moriarty have also kept their original vitality even as they find themselves woven into a fresh storyline. Personally, I am interested with the film’s heavy leanings toward Holmes-Adler, playing on the idea that for Holmes, Adler is “the woman.” I LOLed and awwed at the cameo of Holmes’ “Scandal in Bohemia” picture of Adler.

Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams)

Watson and Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly)

What I find disappointing, however, is the “magic society plot” and its revelation. The character of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) per se is convincingly creepy–but for me, the depiction of the occult plans and its aims are somewhat lacking. While it is revealed in the end that Blackwood’s ‘powers’ are actually the product of influence and science, one is led to ask on whether Blackwood himself believes in the occult. Why does he practice his rituals? Does he believe them to be of any value? Or does he only do that to enhance his mystique and reputation and cause fear into the people’s hearts? I personally cannot be totally sure. Moreover, I snickered a bit about Blackwood’s idea of retaking the United States of America. The US in the 1890s was on its way to industrial prosperity, true, and despite the film’s claim, the decades after the Civil War found it stronger than ever. However, America was only then a backwoods country, an international province, a haven for Spring Awakening’s Moritz and Crime and Punishment’s Svidrigailov or a goldmine for Doyle’s other Holmesian characters. America by then had yet to conquer the Philippines and step into the Eurocentric world-stage. Why Blackwood would be interested in such a country is beyond me–unless, of course, it has something to do with the large American audience.

Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong)

As for the deductions and the reasoning–the film as a whole is still a smart one, what with Holmes’ clever disguises, interesting insights into the occult, and Moriarty’s diversionary tactic. And as I’ve said earlier, there are critics who say that the film is too action and not much brains. But while I may agree with that, that does not mean that I would recommend doing otherwise. After all, even Doyle himself was first and foremost a storyteller, and not a detective. Brilliant though the Holmes of the text is, he does not come across as some geek in an armchair spouting highfalutin theory and analysis in the books. Moreover, the film is not about Holmes’ brillant mind–we take that as a given. What we are interested about is the clash between the occult and the logical, the effects of fear and panic to a society, and the triumph of order over chaos. Aka: good guys beating bad guys. And that movie, I think, does just that.

Overall rating: 8/10

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