Saturday, December 26, 2009

Review: 'Sherlock Holmes' [B-]

By Chase Kahn

Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, for better or worse, should be exactly what anybody who walks into it expects it to be. Like any Ritchie film, it's a whirlwind of subplots, supporting characters, muffled British dialogue and machismo brutality all plugged into the Sir Arthur Donan Coyle 19th Century London world of superior intelligence and deductive reasoning.

The result is a hodgepodge of equal parts both ill-fitting and surprisingly tight-knit. Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes is not traditionally played by Basil Rathbone standards, yet he pulls it off convincingly because nobody pulls off cocky, half-deranged amusement and heroism like Downey. Although, with this latest performance (a concoction of Tony Stark and Paul Avery), the 44-year old actor's biblical rise from the dead is starting to show signs of repeating itself.

Jude Law, as the straight, comparatively clean-cut Watson, registers during his moments of bromance bickering between Mr. Downey, although mainly I just felt relieved and comforted seeing him back on the big screen in a major year-end studio film. Once you get past the fact that these two traditionally witty and supremely intellectual beings are now additionally mixed-martial artists, Sherlock Holmes is a bit easier to slip into to.

The actors do their part (if a bit too predictably) to ease the transition from detective to superhero, but in all honestly, the driving force of the film is not Ritchie's brash, brutal sensibility or the smoggy, soft-focus photography of the back-alley cobblestone streets of London, but the driving, smirky musical accompaniment of Hans Zimmer's original score.

One of the most audacious and recognizable composers working today, (The Dark Knight, The Da Vinci Code) Zimmer's score here, with its broken piano chords and banjo-thumping crescendos, is as much a voice in the film as any other working part. From the opening shot of the Warner Bros. logo along a rainy, faintly-lit street, accompanied by the opening 4-note theme, it's clear that Zimmer's modernist Western tunes are the glue keeping this otherwise broad and safely-played action-mystery film from falling completely apart. It's also the most eccentric that the German-born composer has sounded in a good while.

As far as the rest goes it's a good deal of uncovering the mystery of the death, and then apparent revival of Lord Blackwood (played by Guy Ritchie regular Mark Strong), with a good deal of exposition, counter-view points and head-scratching schemes of villainy, which frequently border on inanity - plus, the three-headed script predictably features a dangerously compromised femme fatale (Rachel McAdams) and a climax on top of the previously-foreshadowed and yet-to-be-completed Tower Bridge gives a new meaning to the word formula.

Nevertheless, I think it can be characterized as one of Guy Ritchie's finer achievements, which is admittedly faint praise, but in contrast to his earlier works, which were unimpeded by studio hands, Sherlock Holmes actually makes a bit of sense.

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