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Robert Downey Jr.’s Low-Tech ‘Sherlock Holmes’ Packs Powerful Punch

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CHICAGO – Instead of relying of high-tech gadgetry and big-budget Hollywood CGI, Guy Ritchie’s gritty “Sherlock Holmes” does what major films often don’t: delivers big-payoff action sequences merely utilizing the body and mind.

While that concept is consistent with the technology present in a dreary 1890s London during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s time (Sherlock Holmes is his most legendary literary character), that doesn’t mean a big-ticket film wouldn’t be tantalized into injecting unauthentic visual ridiculousness. Thankfully, Guy Ritchie resists.

Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”.
Image credit: Warner Bros.

Instead, Robert Downey Jr. treats us with a glimpse into Sherlock Holmes’ brilliant mind as he deconstructs and debilitates his enemies through the acute understanding of the human body, its weaknesses and how it can most effectively be broken.

These well-choreographed, no-weapon sequences redefine the traditional fight scene with masterful execution, original style and memorable cinematic achievement. Aside from the brute force of his fist, Holmes’ trademark is his Spock-like logic and his ability to crack a case through unorthodox methods.

While Sherlock Holmes as a brilliant detective has become one of pop culture’s most recognized and enduring adventure figures on par with Indiana Jones, Robert Downey Jr. embodies the role naturally with just the right balance of wit, brain, brute and wild stallion.

Robert Downey Jr. (left) and Jude Law in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr. (left) and Jude Law in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”.
Image credit: Warner Bros.

“He was probably the first super hero – an intellectual super hero,” Robert Downey Jr. said of his role. “He was, and probably still is, one of the most recognizable icons on Earth so much so that a lot of people actually thought that Sherlock Holmes was a real person.”

He added: “He’s very adept at so many things. He plays violin, he’s a martial artist, a boxer, an expert single stick fighter and a swordsman of sorts. He has a strong moral code in helping good guys catch bad guys, so he has dedicated his life to being a consulting detective. He doesn’t do it to show everyone how smart he is or that he has figured everything else out when they haven’t. He’s actually a crusader.”

But Holmes – both on screen and on paper – is only a partial genius without his trusty sidekick, Dr. John Watson (played in the film by an about-to-be-married Jude Law). While the film garnered early conversation about the on-screen relationship between Holmes and Watson and its potential homosexual vibe, the duo simply works regardless of whether you read into their “flirtations”.

Rachel McAdams in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes
Rachel McAdams in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”.
Image credit: Alex Bailey, Warner Bros.

Rachel McAdams, who plays the alluring but dangerous criminal Irene Adler and is one puzzle Holmes struggles to solve, makes mention of such a flirtation between these two leading men in a trailer that does not appear in the film.

But her presence as both a scandalous siren – and her underlying tempestuous relationship with Sherlock Holmes – leave the viewer underwhelmed. Her back story is weak, their pseudo relationship is underdeveloped and the film lacks sexual spice. Despite its rating of “PG-13” for some action sequences and “a scene of suggestive material,” Ritchie’s portrayal had a more “PG” libido.

Also, while the film bills itself in the action, adventure, crime, drama, mystery and thriller departments, you’d think the quirkiness of Holmes’ character pooled with Watson’s more serious deportment would have yielded more comedy than it did. Indeed, the film delivers on its more important goals of action and wit, but its comedy is a missed opportunity nonetheless.

There’s even the tease at a plot line with “Professor Moriarty,” but that doesn’t resolve itself likely due to business and financial reasons. (Ahem: Sequel?)

Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”.
Image credit: Warner Bros.

But after pouring through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s four novels and 56 self-contained short stories on the character, childhood Holmes fan and director Guy Ritchie (“Snatch,” “RocknRolla,” “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) succeeds at a goal akin to so many directors before him who recreate timeless characters: to take Holmes back to his basics and make him explode out of the screen.

Ritchie gives Holmes a visceral, inquisitive, inventive and streetwise demeanor that serves justice to the beloved character. In addition, the work of producer Lionel Wigram bleeds through into the film’s fact-checking and authenticity department. He consulted the Baker Street Irregulars, which is a global group of Sherlock Holmes experts from around the world who meet annually in New York to share information and immortalize their hero.

The film’s behind-the-scenes crew should also be highlighted along with its well-recognized cast members.

Jude Law in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes
Jude Law in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”.
Image credit: Warner Bros.

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“Sherlock Holmes” makes use of Oscar-winning director of photography Philippe Rousselot (“A River Runs Through It”), Oscar-nominated production designer Sarah Greenwood (“Atonement,” “Pride & Prejudice”), Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan (“A Room With a View”) and music by Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer (“The Lion King,” “Gladiator”).

On the whole, the film injects just enough oomph to satiate rabid Holmes fans while nourishing a more general crowd who simply appreciates being entertained.

“Sherlock Holmes,” which is directed by Guy Ritchie, stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Robert Maillet, Geraldine James, Kelly Reilly, William Houston, Hans Matheson, James Fox, William Hope, Clive Russell, Oran Gurel and David Garrick. The film, which has a running time of 128 minutes, is rated “PG-13” for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material. “Sherlock Holmes” opened everywhere on Dec. 25, 2009.

HollywoodChicago.com editor-in-chief and publisher Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Editor-in-Chief/Publisher
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2009 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

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