Saturday, May 31, 2014

25. Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Code-name: 1890's bromance

Director: Guy Ritchie

Type: book-to-movie, mystery, thriller, drama, action/adventure

Music: Hans Zimmer

(I had, unknowingly, been a fan of Hans Zimmer for years and this movie is why he's become one of my favorite movie composers, second only to John Williams).


Sherlock Holmes- Robert Downey Jr.
Dr. Watson- Jude Law
Lord Blackwood- Mark Strong
Irene Adler- Rachel McAdams
Mary Morstan- Kelly Reilly 
Mrs. Hudson- Geraldine James
Inspector Lestrade- Eddie Marsan
Clarkey- William Huston
[Honorable Mention]
Dredger- Robert Maillet

Notable Awards and Nominations:

Golden Globe-
Best Actor (comedy/musical)-
Robert Downey Jr.

...yeah, it's kind of a big deal 8-)

nomination-OSCAR- Best Art Direction (lost to "Avatar")

nomination-OSCAR- Best Original Score- Hans Zimmer (lost to "Up")

...btw, where was his freaking Oscar nomination for this?

nomination- Grammy- Best Original Score- Hans Zimmer


First Impressions [both of Sherlock and this movie]

I knew nothing about Sherlock Holmes before this movie. The closest I got to it was when we read "The Speckled Band" in 7th grade.

It was announced a few months after Robert impressed me in "Tropic Thunder" that he'd play the title role in this new adaptation. This was a couple years before I became the crazy super fan I am now, so my intentions were just to see another great performance.

I want to say that I saw the movie before he won the Golden Globe. The timing of both things were pretty close. The same weekend I saw it and "Avatar" (the 2nd time, this time in 3D) was the weekend he won...

Anyway, my reaction was mixed. I gave "Sherlock Holmes" a B+

and my first review went something like this:

Overall, I’d say my rating is generous. Of course, I am very generous to my current favorite actor. There was one part towards the end before the climax where I think I was starting to fall asleep. It’s the sort of movie where your paying attention is rewarded at the end where everything is explained. But at times, it's very hard to pick out individual words and phrases from Downey’s British accent. One scene aside (featuring McAdams in men’s clothing and mulitple explosions in slow motion), there are some moments that only RDJ’s charisma make special"

Aside from running a little too long, my first impression wasn't great because I didn't know what to expect coming into it. I expected the typical pensive Sherlock Holmes we're all accustomed to seeing or, in my case, just knowing of. Instead, this was an action/adventure with emphasis on action. It took me a while to get used to the fact that this was a more active version of this character.

As it turns out, this was actually the closest adaptation there's been to the source material.

Aside from the dead-on accent, the comedic aspect and, obviously, Robert's overall performance, the coolest thing about it for me the first time was the final act. When Sherlock reveals to Lord Blackwood how he solved the case and discredited him as a practitioner of dark magic.

My dad's mentioned a few times with a couple movies he'd seen in-flight how it helps to pay attention because it comes together in the end.
This was my first experience with this personally and naturally that helped me fall slowly in love with the film.
Unless you're British or have a good ear for accents, on those grounds alone, I'd recommend seeing this movie more than once. Not just catching the dialogue, but also all the tiny details that come together in Blackwood's grand scheme.


We open up in the middle of the action. Sherlock and Watson are pursing a killer responsible for the deaths of four girls and if not for them, would have killed a fifth in yet another ritualistic sacrifice. Lord Blackwood is apprehended and taken to jail to await his execution.

Three months later, he's to be hanged and Sherlock's biggest concern, aside from lack of cases, is losing Watson to marriage. In this portion, there's a lot of great character development between the two roommates, which helps if you're unfamiliar with the stories. Mostly in the form of witty banter and one-liners from Sherlock.

We get back to the main plot where Lord Blackwood tells Sherlock about the next part of his plan, just moments before he is hanged.

Then reentering his life for, according to dialogue, the third time is Irene Adler. She asks Sherlock to find someone for her and he purses her (in disguise of course) to find more. Particularly a little about her employer.

He does find her missing "ginger midget" (his words), but in the coffin of Lord Blackwood. Scotland Yard had been called to the graveyard initially on reports that he had risen from the grave. And so the game is afoot...

Watson tries his best to break ties with Holmes, but gets roped into one last case with him where they try to discern Lord Blackwood's plan. This is done with some assistance, as well as some hindrance, from Irene Adler.

The Actors and The Acting

Oddly enough, I have a very hard time imagining where I had seen Jude Law before Sherlock Holmes. I'm starting to think that the only place I'd seen him was in entertainment news and as People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive.
After this movie and seeing the amazing chemistry he has with Robert, I'd wanted to see more of him. Plus, he's a good looking guy, so that goes without saying. Sadly, the only other positive venture I got out of it was "The Holiday." I stuck with him and defended him throughout "Closer" until the final moments. And "The Talented Mr. Ripley"... let's say he did deserve what he got.

Between "Mean Girls" and "The Vow," I'd seen so much of Rachel McAdams lately that the illusion I always had of her as Irene Adler was temporarily shattered. She is so into this role and so good at it that I usually see her as the character, not as one of my favorite actresses.

Everyone else, I'm getting to know for the first time. I'd seen Eddie Marsan once or twice since out of pure coincidence. Mark Strong, the only other time I'd seen him was a cameo he had on a Jaguar SuperBowl commercial with Tom Hiddelston and Ben Kingsley (note: all three had worked with RDJ... the only other common link is that they're Brits who play helluva good villains).

Just recently, I've started watching Kelly Reilly's new show "Black Box" and the results have been great so far. There could be an Emmy in it for her ;) assuming it avoids cancellation

As far as the acting goes, this is definitely among Robert's finest performances. The Golden Globe was well deserved. He always has this magnetism on screen. When he's at his best, I feel like he becomes his character and I forget he's playing a role.

Having said all that, I have other roles I prefer him in per my personal tastes. Sometimes it's more about the emotional intangibles than grade A execution. Also, as much as I think he pulls off a great accent here (thanks to his dialect coach Andrew Jack, whom he worked with on "Chaplin"), I find his normal speaking voice much more attractive.

Credits to the Director and Producers

Except for Mel Brooks back in the day, I didn't really pay attention to directors until I watched Robert Inside The Actor's Studio. He spoke so highly of the directors and writers he'd worked with that I couldn't help but want to learn more.

Guy Ritchie is a very hands-on director. Behind the scenes, you'd see him up close with the actors going over the choreography with them step by step.

After Sherlock Holmes, I checked into "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch"... just to see the types of movies he'd been known for doing beforehand.

So far, for me, the results have been mixed. I think I needed subtitles for LS2SB because I could not understand 80% of the dialogue. I don't remember much else except there were no big names in it and the last half hour was actually good. As for "Snatch," I could understand it better but not by much. It starred Brad Pitt and he was rather good in it. It had some comedic moments, but the pacing was slow on numerous occasions.
But I'm not giving up. It might just take multiple viewings for me to wrap my head around this man's style. One thing's for sure: Sherlock Holmes speaks on a grander scale with a much sharper picture, probably thanks to having more resources from WB studios. And kick-ass producers like Joel Silver ("Lethal Weapon" and "Weird Science" to name a few), Susan Downey (yes, Robert's amazing wife 8-) ), and Lionel Wigram (all of David Yates' directed Harry Potter films).

[Just found this out: WB approached Guy Ritchie to direct this movie. Rather fittingly, Guy grew up on the stories and had wanted to bring them to the big screen.
WB wanted him to make it more like the films he'd done in the past and he wanted to do it on a broader, more accessible picture and the result was a compromise of that... fascinating stuff...]

All the Details
Overall, this movie is very cerebral. The dialogue is fast-paced, often with a lot of technical details, so you have to be on your toes. Or better yet, relax the first couple times and you'll absorb the details via osmosis :-P

If you have extra time, I'd recommend just searching the many interviews on YouTube Robert and Jude gave promoting this film. I have four of them saved under my YouTube favorites, but I'd probably seen this one the most out of all of them. They talk about how they go along almost instantly, their chemistry, how the characters relate to one another. Lots of juicy details.
In another interview, director Guy Ritchie said how he liked the idea of an American playing Sherlock. Then Jude coming on board came down to Robert saying "only Jude would do" and this epic bromance is born.

I've seen so much footage from interviews to Guy Ritchie's Maximum Movie Mode on the Blu-ray extras that I've learned so much about this movie, what happens in it, how certain scenes were shot, where some of the inspiration came from (actual dialogue in the actual stories!)... whether that makes me an obsessed fan girl or movie nerd is your choice.

I just found it all very fascinating, which makes the overall experience even more fun.

Seeing the movie more, going past the obvious things that keep me coming back, I came to love how detail-oriented it is. Every article in each setting belongs there and has some merit and bearing on the overall story. Some more obvious than others.

One thing Guy Ritchie pointed out in Maximum Movie Mode is a post in Baker Street Sherlock likely used to practice his martial arts on.

Like I said, this is a very physical film. Once I got used to that new element, I couldn't help but marvel at the fight scenes. Guy Ritchie worked with a lot of slow motion, especially in key fights where we see the slowed down version and it's sped up to normal speed after all the explanations.

The only scene where I felt this didn't work was during the slaughterhouse explosions... it was just overdone for me. Then again, the following scene where the police find Sherlock, wouldn't have worked if it was all filmed in normal speed.

Of course while doing their research, the guys read all of the stories. Robert went the extra mile by spending time with Leslie Clinger, a tax lawyer who lives in Malibu who happens to be an expert in all things Sherlock Holmes.

Researching The Brand

Part of it is because I'm a sucker for useless trivia and part of it is also living up to the fact this man researches his roles so well that he knows them backwards and forwards. I wanted in on that action. Actually, I think some of that has filtered into the novel I'd been working on for the past several months, wanting to know my characters as well as he does.

Sometime in early 2011, I bought myself the first volume (of two) of Sherlock Holmes and started reading the stories. I finished it within a month and shortly after got the second volume.

Makes me go back to one interview he did with Jimmy Kimmel. Robert asked the audience who read the books and Jimmy discounts the cheering saying they're all liars.
It'd been a year or two after the movie came out, but yeah, I READ THE STORIES, JIMMY KIMMEL!

Did I make that loud enough? :-P

I don't remember which ones, but there were only a handful of stories I didn't get into. One of them was the "Sign of Four," which I found overlong and boring.

With the first story, "A Study in Scarlet," I was impressed by chapter 2 where Holmes goes through his process, talking about how he only keeps the most important knowledge at his disposal (not caring that the Earth revolves around the sun, stuff like that), and at the crime scene where he measured a man's height by the stride of his footprints.

Extraordinary stuff...

it's also great reading Watson's engaging narrative and getting to know him, not as the bumbling old man people had come to know in previous adaptations, but as an ex-military man who battled in Afghanistan. It's pretty obvious how much they care about one another even if some of that involves tough love.

Naturally, I decided to check into as much Sherlock Holmes related stuff because I found the mythology fascinating and of course, part of me wanted to compare and say how much better the Guy Ritchie version is. (And how Robert would always be my favorite Sherlock).

From the scholarly standpoint, I think the CBS series "Elementary" captures the feel of the books better. How eccentric Sherlock was. And I also loved Lucy Liu as "Joan" Watson. On the premise alone, I was intrigued by a female Watson and she's an interesting character. They also take an interesting angle with her relationship with him, showing how she doesn't have much a life going on outside of him and as of recently, she decided that needs to change.

However, I can't stand by all of the reimaginings  presented in "Elementary." Case-in-point: how they made Irene Adler and Moriarty THE SAME PERSON. People who saw Sherlock 2 had their complaints that Jared Harris wasn't a sinister enough Moriarty (I'll cover that in a bit). I just felt cheated that they combined two of the most iconic characters from the series. And I rather liked Natalie Dormer as Irene Adler until they screwed things up.
Recently, they also caused a ruckus with Sherlock's brother Mycroft. He'd been featured in a few stories, written as someone even more brilliant than Sherlock, but too lazy to apply his powers of observation in anything constructive. In "Elementary," they wrote him as the estranged brother who had a fling with Watson, was a secret agent and ultimately had to fake his death to get away from the bad guys... yeah, nothing like the books or any other version.

I'd been meaning to see the highly acclaimed series Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, but the timing was never right. Unless it's available on Hulu, I was always watching something else at the same time. But whatever flickers I did see of it, I did like, but I need to see more to be sure.

I also saw one adaptation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" where Sherlock was played by Peter Cushing. It was a well-written adaptation for sure. I especially impressed that they had a more active Watson than people were accustomed to seeing.


Yes, I have an "s" at the end of that and it's not just blind optimism.

I saw an article on IMDB from one of the producers who said a third Sherlock Holmes is in development. The problem is that everyone got busy... to which I say, "You try being Iron-Man and Sherlock Holmes and in Avengers at the same time" :-P

But it would put my heart at ease to see the moment where Sherlock and Watson have their epic reunion scene... seeing as Sherlock 2 ended with Sherlock believed to be dead by everyone but the audience ;)

I also want to give everyone involved a chance to redeem themselves for "A Game of Shadows."

To put it lightly, I felt like they went too big too fast.

The third act penultimate "explanation" of how he solved the puzzle of Moriarty was extremely rushed and muddled. Instead of laying out the evidence piece by piece in the background like in the previous film, they were barely glanced over to begin with. We're just expected to believe Mary had been playing detective with Mycroft and Sherlock followed Moriarty's whereabouts under more disguises... sorry, I ain't buyin'.
Jared Harris as Moriarty was intimidating at first, but seeing it a couple more times, I think his actions were more intimidating than his on-screen presence. Upon further examination, the final chess scene when he does his own "Holmes-a-vision" bit to counteract Sherlock's fight scene scenario comes off rather goofy.

What did work in its favor was casting Noomi Rapace as the new female co-lead (my first experience with her and I thought she was great). Watson's wedding to Mary was very touching. Every scene at 221b Baker Street felt like home. The train scene had all the elements of a great Sherlock Holmes action scene and is one of the better executed bits of dramatics in the film.
The funniest part with his promotion of Sherlock 2 was talking about this cross-dressing scene and how awkward it became remembering how it was HIS idea :-P

Of course, I have to address the awesomeness that is Robert hosting Maximum Movie Mode on the Blu-Ray.
He joked throughout that this was something only of interest to people who are sick or cooped up on a rainy day.
I do not need those excuses to deal with DVD commentary. I do it because I want to know more about movies from the directors, producers and actors that work on them.
As he always is, Robert was intelligent and knowledgeable when he needed to be and comedic in the times in between. Personally, I have to disagree with his belief everyone decided that they loved seeing him get his ass handed to him in movies after getting a taste of it in a certain indie flick he did in 2005... I prefer seeing him able to handle himself ;)

Coming Soon

[here's hoping my next couple entries come out this good]

Next week will be a movie that has a little something for everyone. Action, adventure, romance, comedy (lots of great comedy), loveable sidekicks and much more. It's probably the most quotable movie on this list where I could easily mute it and know it word for word. And it's another movie, for whatever reason, I fought my mom on seeing for years and when I did, I couldn't not find out how it ended.

1 comment:

Arlee Bird said...

That was a very thorough review and examination of this film. Sherlock has been on my Netflix queue for a while but keeps getting knocked down the list by other movies. From your description this sounds like a film that I might enjoy.

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