Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Last week saw the U.S. release of the new Sherlock Holmes film, A Game of Shadows.  Being slightly behind the curve, I only recently saw the first movie.  In short, I didn’t like it.  Keep reading to learn why.

Sherlock Holmes: Steam-Punk Hero

Perhaps it is somewhat presumptuous to say so, but I love the character of Sherlock Holmes because I sympathize with him.  I sympathize with the tedium of everyday existence.  I understand the need to exercise the mind in a way to squeeze some sort of interest out of one’s surroundings.  I’m the type of person who spends a lot of time in his own head.  I’m happiest when I’m learning a new concept or trying to solve some sort of puzzle.  As such, I feel quite protective of the character of Holmes and Watson.  To me, the most important aspect of Sherlock Holmes is character.  To a degree, the story matters very little.  Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are not mysteries or “whodunnits”, they are adventures.  The clue is in the title.  Doyle crafted a series of stories suitable for the characters who inhabit them.  As it has been stated elsewhere, Sherlock Holmes stories are not detective stories, they are stories about a detective.  Thus, character is very important.

In Guy Ritchie’s imperfect interpretation, Watson is spot-on.  He is engaged in Victorian society.  He has a fiancee.  Jude Law plays the character to perfection.  No, what irks me so much about Guy Ritchie’s film is the character of Holmes.  His social inadequacies make him quirky.  His intellectual machinations often lead him to humorous situations.  In essence, the Holmes of this film is an intellectual idiot.  He is a bumbler who just happens to be very observant and able to put clues together.  And, being a Hollywood film, he is a good fighter.

I have no objection to the story itself.  Again, being a mystery in the style of Agatha Christie or P.D. James isn’t necessary.  An apocalyptic cult leader returning from the dead works on the fringes of the Holmes canon in much the same way the giant rat of Sumatra conjures images of the supernatural.  Doyle himself even tackled vampire lore in the Holmes canon. It is the title character himself who falls short in this adaptation.  Honestly, we don’t have Sherlock Holmes in this movie, we have “Robert-Downey-Jr.-Fresh-Off-Iron-Man-Playing-Sherlock-Holmes”.  Admittedly, as titles go, that would have been a mouthful.  This was an action film first and foremost.  Being male and having no particular attraction to Robert Downey Jr., I was unable to get past the flaws in portrayal.  As one of my co-workers advised me, I tried to think of the film as “action” rather than “Sherlock Holmes”.  But the other characters continued to call Downey “Holmes.”  I was unable to set aside my preconceived notions of who Sherlock Holmes is.  Perhaps if I had shot up on cocaine, I would have found it easier to engage with the movie.

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