There is such a power to Hans Zimmer’s compositions that it can grab you by your collar and push you into a narrative within seconds. The amount of tension he builds in this film with banjos, fiddles, and accordions is extraordinary. Sherlock Holmes has never been this infectious on celluloid, and Guy Ritchie’s stylized filmmaking ensures you remember this version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s remarkable character on a good note.
In a striking curtain-raiser, we find Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and Watson (Jude Law) in the middle of a chase ensuing in London’s habitually wet-streets. The duo is after an evil Black Magician named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). It is a stunning ensemble of incredible production design and cinematography that puts you in action from the get-go.
We learn about Sherlock Holmes’ calculative tactics of combat that guarantee a win over his opponent. Watson, on the other hand, has forthright dexterity and a certain protectiveness for his genius companion. Together, they work like a lamp and a wick, ideally relying on each other.
This entire sequence equips us with their nuts and bolts, while also revealing the necessary fragment of the villains’ devilry, preparing you for a fair contest. And boy, do we have a whale of a time.
The first Sherlock Holmes movie I watched was Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s Dressed to Kill. It is an old film (a 1946 release) that my friends recommended as we regaled over Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories. And I quite enjoyed it. It didn’t fully capture the essence of the stories but did well in portraying Holmes and Watson’s friendship. And years later, when I saw this version, a pretty different take on the character, however, magnificently real in the books’ aesthetic, I was unexpectedly pleased.
I should mention I had seen BBC’s Sherlock Holmes (feat. Benedict Cumberbatch) before seeing this film. A TV series, its story was set in modern-day London. Hence, I was delighted with Guy Ritchie’s inclination to stick to the novels’ era. He has taken a liberty with Lord Blackwood as the villain (he didn’t exist in the books) and Robert Downey’s messy, reclusive version of Sherlock. But it works very well.
There is sound logic as to why he is such a hermit. A great dinner table scene perfectly underscores why Holmes can’t socialize with people on an emotional level, instead connect with them on the purpose of solving mysteries. The only person he best feels comfortable with is his partner in crime, Dr. Watson. And it’s a smart casting decision to accompany Downey, or should I say his wits with the charm of Jude Law.
Over the years, I liked and remembered this version of Sherlock Holmes for Robert Downey Jr’s performance and, of course, Ritchie’s irresistible style of filmmaking. However, today, I enjoyed it for Jude Law. As Watson, he is so damn perfect. Regardless of how many impossible tasks Holmes pulls off, his heroism is always half-done without Watson.
It is a great supporting character, and Jude plays it with all his heart. Each time the two quibbles and disagree on something, you know Watson will make it up. He is the kind of friend everyone wants in real life. And most of the film’s best moments involve him and Downey together on-screen.
Even an unnecessary, kind of lethargic action scene during the middle (nearly 10-minutes long) remains watchable due to the actors’ great chemistry. Otherwise, its a significant speed breaker that takes you out of the story for the sake of some movie-trailer moments.
The script also isn’t as intelligent as you would expect from a Sherlock Holmes adventure. At least, not during the first half.
The focus remains on the action beats and showing off the set-pieces. There is also a tease for a more sinister villain (the highlight of the sequel, A Game of Shadows), which kind of underpowers the film’s own antagonist. And you can easily predict most of the sherlockey stuff Downey does and explains in the first hour.
The movie improves later when Blackwood rises to the occasion and puts Holmes and Watson to their paces. It is also when Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, Sherlock’s love interest, becomes integral to the plot.
McAdams is excellent. You believe her when she bamboozles Sherlock.
Her character is a fascinating one, as she gets to both kick butts while also outsmarting Holmes. She enhances the entertainment value by a considerable margin, and it’s great to see her do equally fantastic stuff as the men.
A classic action scene at the end of the second act, features her along the duo in a pig slaughter factory. Its a nail-bitingly good scene and quite humorous – precisely the enjoyment you expect from a movie of this kind.
Major kudos to Ritchie for this. The way he plays with characters is totally his domain. And his version of Sherlock Holmes is likable for the adequate embodiment of each character by well-cast popular actors.
This is to say Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood is also acceptable. Though he is never a physical threat to Holmes, he gives a fair competition in terms of theatricality and deviousness. Kelly Reilly, as Watson’s would-be-wife, is also perfect. I enjoyed all of her scenes, with the dinner table one being my favorite.
- Recommended: Enola Holmes – An Early Christmas Treat for Kids
Sherlock Holmes, as mentioned earlier, is first-rate on the technicalities. Be it the costume design or the art direction, the film scores on all fronts. Its a treat for the eyes, and so much more for the ears, thanks to an immensely memorable score by Hans Zimmer. It has been more than a decade already since it first came out, and the willingness to write about this film says a lot for me. And Zimmer has a lot to do with it. Listen to his score below.
I have read and enjoyed almost every story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This version of his character, sadly, lacks a high intellectual level. But the accurate visual aesthetic, and most importantly, the excellent depiction of the characters, does make me want to go back to the books on a good note.
It is more action-packed and stylized, but plainly in terms of execution and the portrayal of Holmes and Watson’s bonding, this version of Britain’s greatest detective gets it right.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
You can stream Sherlock Holmes on Amazon Prime Video. Share your thoughts regarding the film below.