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May 2010

Sherlock Holmes

cast: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, and Eddie Marsan

director: Guy Ritchie

123 minutes (12) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Warner DVD Region 2 retail
[released 17 May]

RATING: 8/10
review by J.C. Hartley

Sherlock Holmes

With its DVD release it's good to see that Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes retains the impression made on the big screen of an efficient and charming action romp, a 'comicbook adaptation' featuring the world's first consulting detective. Of course there's damn little detection really, with the wonderful Robert Downey Jr seemingly absorbing evidence savant-like, and releasing it for our consumption via expository montages.

The montage is something of a directorial signature for Ritchie, and he overuses it here. Within minutes of the film's opening Holmes assesses the level of violence required to incapacitate a guard, this device is used later in a montage sequence when Holmes takes part in a bare-knuckle bout, the best use of the technique in the whole movie. But we have montages that seem to suggest hallucinatory visions, in which Holmes 'sees' what evidence has suggested might have happened, and montages where we are shown what we have really seen when we thought we were seeing something else.

The beauty in the story of Holmes and Watson is that we do not require any backstory, no time-consuming how-he-got-his-powers-and-met-his-sidekick stuff. Holmes and Watson are in the public domain and everyone knows, or thinks they know, their story. The suggestion that this version of Sherlock Holmes would offend purists was probably correct, purists will always be offended; they were no doubt offended by Billy Wilder's The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, with its teasing homoerotic joke, and the suggestion of Holmes in love.

But there is much in this film that is canonical. Although Holmes' bare-knuckle bout is a sweaty violent affair, we know from The Sign Of Four that he was wont to indulge in the science. We also see his prodigious knowledge of the City of London in action in a wonderful sequence where, despite being blindfolded, he correctly analyses where he has been taken. The drug-taking, so central to some modern interpretations of the work, is here jettisoned.

For many viewers one of the joys of the film is the evocation of the City of London, and the 'busy empire'. There are no austere, rain-slicked streets with prowling hansom-cabs, everything is dust and bustle and noise and potential threat. If the story has little tension on repeat viewing, and one regrets that Mark Strong's villain has so little opportunity to shine (compare his full-on performance in Kick-Ass), the chief joy is in the buddy-relationship of Downey Jr, and Jude Law, as the detective and his friend. That Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler manages to charm her way into the picture says a lot for her abilities as well as her looks. Eddie Marsan is a thoroughly decent Lestrade, often sceptical but bound to Holmes for what he knows he can do. This film is fine and filled with potential for the promised sequel.

DVD extras include audio commentary with Ritchie and Downey Jr, and deleted scenes with an introduction by Ritchie.



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