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Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Director: Guy Ritchie

review by J.C. Hartley

Time and tradition have dictated a form for the portrayal of the great detective and his trusty sidekick, as gentlemen of a certain age; Watson usually older than Holmes, the latter a chilly ascetic, the former a plodder or even a bumbler. It is an image as fixed in our heads and hearts as Robert Newton's Long John Silver. Go back to read Treasure Island and you will discover a youngish, and certainly vital, John Silver, a well-scrubbed individual particular about his personal hygiene, he was in the catering profession after all, a million miles from Newton's sweaty portrayal. Read A Study In Scarlet and find Sherlock Holmes referred to as a 'young man', an occasionally dreamy and earnest autodidact, jealous of the professionals at Scotland Yard building reputations on his back.

Holmes and Watson, in mockney geezer Guy Ritchie's film, are near contemporaries; Watson (Jude Law) has his limp from the war wound that invalided him out of the army, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr, Iron Man) is the untidy bohemian from Watson's literary description, with his habit of abstract plucking on the violin when deep in thought. For all the injection of cool, I don't think that this pair is so very far from what Conan Doyle envisioned. I love Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing and all, and I'm re-reading the books, and I think Ritchie and his writers have approached the myth with genuine affection, perhaps in the spirit of the Wold Newton family or the resurrection of Doctor Who.

The film opens with Holmes and Watson, and a cadre of constables led by LeStrade (Eddie Marsan), preventing a ritual killing and arresting the criminal occultist Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong, Sunshine). Blackwood is hanged but appears to rise from the grave, and further murders seem designed to achieve a diabolical purpose. Holmes' investigation is complicated by the reappearance of 'the woman' Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who is working for a not so very mysterious third party.

It is a cunning creative ploy to set the film not at the beginning of Holmes and Watson's partnership, but at the point where they have been together for some time and Watson is planning his engagement to Mary (Kelly Reilly, Eden Lake), and departure. The plot is a mildly diverting frame to hang the interplay of character upon, and a starting point for some well-realised action sequences. The film occasionally stumbles over the need for exposition, achieved here with a mixture of flashback and rapid-cut montage and, it must be said, the CGI backdrops for the finale are a bit obvious in this otherwise seamless age.

Robert Downey Jr once again lifts a film by his sheer joie de vivre and there is an obvious rapport with Law, and with McAdams. Mark Strong isn't given a lot to do with Blackwood, but Eddie Marsan makes LeStrade rather more than a cameo. Don't come to this if you're devoted to Jeremy Brett in the TV series, or if you want a lot of intuitive detective work. Do come to it if you want wit, attractive leads, fist fights, explosions and a reasonable evocation of muddy Victorian London and the filthy machinations of corrupt aristocrats.

Sherlock Holmes

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