Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sherlock Holmes

By Sati. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , , ,
(128 min, 2009)
Plot: Detective Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson engage in a battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis whose plot is a threat to all of England.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Michael Robert Johnson (screenplay), Anthony Peckham (screenplay)
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams
Deduction, Seduction, Destruction.

Sherlock Holmes is known everywhere – the iconic brilliant detective, the main hero of countless books and movies. Is there anything less in tone of Guy Ritchie movies? I thought not. And I was most likely right. But Ritchie is so good he actually manages to sneak his own style into a classic tale of detective and his sidekick making it a unique film, unlike anything I've seen before.

I was surprised when I first heard Ritchie is set to direct the movie about the most famous Baker Street inhabitant. Ritchie, let's call him faithful Tarantino disciple, has shot 2 terrific movies about ruthless mobsters, money and freak occurrences - “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and of course, one of my favorite movies of all time “Snatch”. Then it was only way way worse, during his marriage to Madonna he shot movies that don't even deserve to be seen. But apparently after the marriage, or as I call it kiss of coma for his directorial talent was over, he returned to his senses and made very good “Rock'n'Rolla”. But Sherlock Holmes? When I first saw the trailer, as thrilled as I was to see Downey Jr's wit and nakedness, it was a bit freaky. The movie seemed to be packed with mindless slapstick comedy and tons of fighting and explosions. Luckily, trailers are misleading.

The modern, Ritchiesque take on Holmes is a complete win. It is one of two movies I've seen that actually managed to capture the spirit of Steampunk. I don't know why but that beautiful trend in art is always deadly for the movies. Up until 'The Prestige' I thought I will never get to see good Steampunk movie, but thankfully in the hands of a great director like Nolan or Ritchie, the seemingly impossible can be done and may I add done in the most extraordinary fashion. In 'Sherlock Holmes' we get absolute essentials – Victorian England, bohemian clothing, technological inventions and fantasy element. Even the construction of Tower Bridge is shown and the final confrontation takes place on it. The atmosphere of the movie, so quirky, so fun but at the same time insanely grotesque and at times morbid and grim is a dream come true for me and is impossible to describe.
The art direction is fantastic (Academy Award nomination) and the scene where Holmes is following Irene is mind-blowing. There is so much to admire in that one, single scene – Downey Jr's interpretation of the role, which is hilarious and quite simply fascinating to watch and he doesn't even say a word in that sequence, beautiful costumes, tiny details of the scene – almost circus-like surroundings along with the dirt and total chaos and the best piece of movie's stunning soundtrack - “I never woke up in handcuffs before”. That scene may seem to be pointless, silly or tacky. But it actually takes for less observant viewer few times to notice the brilliance of it, which is hidden in tiny details. The whole choreography and the direction of the sequence is great and that one scene alone contains more ambience than 10 different movies brought together.
The fighting and the explosions is just a meticulously created facade which covers so much the reviewers who called the movie “bad “or a “typical american blockbuster“ really make me pity them, cause they will never see the brilliance of the film with their closed minds and apparently, deaf and blind lifeless corpses. The take on Sherlock Holmes is modern - but the creators are filled with reverence for the character. To quote Sherlock Holmes “You see, but you do not observe.". For example:
At the end of the film, Mary asks Watson if she could read his journals of his adventures with Sherlock Holmes. Of the 60 Doyle penned stories of Sherlock Holmes, all but four have Watson serving as the narrator.
The story "His Last Bow" mentions that Holmes practiced shooting his pistol by putting VR (Victoria Regina) on his wall with bullet holes. In the movie, Holmes shoots VR in the wall in his room with a gun.
At one point, Holmes drinks something that Watson notes is meant "for eye surgery." In the Sherlock Holmes novel "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution," Watson laments that the cocaine mixture that Holmes was addicted to was originally meant for eye surgery.
Contrary to what some reviewers and regular viewers think Guy Ritchie didn't just take the idea of Holmes and wiped his ass with that. The movie is well-thought and planned and as somebody who is usually skeptical of elements of magic in films (mostly cause it is more than often offensive, after all many believe in supernatural and there are not many good films about magic, much like with Steampunk, so using two of those elements together Ritchie really set the bar high from himself), but the one shown in Holmes not only makes sense when you think about supernatural explanation – the sphinx explanation, the city with hidden clues in the way it was built, the pentacle and even that stuff I found in trivia section on imdb:
The four symbols referred to in the movie, the Man, the Lion, the Ox and the Eagle, are also attributed to the four Gospels of the Christian Bible: Matthew (the Lion, kingship), Mark (the Ox, servitude), Luke (Man, the humanity of Christ), and John ( Eagle, the divinity of Christ).
The three murders of the men and the attempted murder of Parliament coincide with the four Greek elements. The first was a burial crime scene (Earth), second was drowning (water), third was immolation (fire), and fourth was poison gas (air).

Again, you have to admire the effort the filmmakers took. Everything in the story ties in nicely. What is even better is that I was sure they will just run with supernatural theory, but in the end in the sequence on the bridge Sherlock explains everything in scientific, logical way. The scene is flawlessly edited and makes a huge impression, especially because of Downey's dramatic delivery of the dialogue – I was floored, it was not like the moment where the good guy explains to the moronic audience what happened, because of Zimmer's beautiful music and Downey's role, his almost whispering, passionate voice, again, the movie reached the heights of totally different emotions than the premise of the movie offered – the corruption, the tragedy, the cynicism and the fall of lord Blackwood is indeed crashing and the walk through how Holmes solved the puzzle is immensely pleasant to watch.
There is one supernatural element not explained, tough – whenever somebody dies in the film the crow appears. Now is it simply because of the fact that bird is viewed as harbinger of death? Or maybe the director wanted to leave us doubting a little in all that rationality, reason and logic?
The structure of the storytelling is a signature of Ritchie – it is always anything but simple and standard. The story goes back and forth, like it did in his previous movies. Guy clearly misses “Snatch” days too – the slow motion use – which he is famous for and which he used effectively long time before Matrix by the way, and the fight scenes which are very unique and breath-taking. The choreography of them is planned in great deal by Downey and Ritchie himself, given that they are both enthusiasts of more artistic kind of fighting and clearly wanted to share that with audience.
The casting of Robert Downey Jr. was a spot on. When he received Golden Globe for that performance he said from the stage that the producers simply needed him in the movie for this to be a hit. As usual, he was right. For years and years, climbing to the top, after the vivid 90's and time in jail, after making tons of indie movies with outstanding performances, after terrible stuff like Gothika and great stuff like Zodiac, after the biggest “the star is reborn” moment with Iron Man and his shocking and totally deserved Oscar nomination for his genius performance in 'Tropic Thunder' (one of my top 10 performances given by the actor, I know that man's face and voice by heart and no matter how many times I see this I cannot believe it is him) he is on that top now. The movie earned almost 500$ dollars worldwide and I dare to say that he was as much of the reason for it as the fact that everyone in the world know who Sherlock Holmes is. I cannot imagine anyone else in Guy Ritchie's movie about the famous detective. Only Downey can pull off bohemian rebel like that. You wanna talk Depp? Depp is outsider weirdo. Downey is sarcastic, tortured but still loving-life-every -day genius. His delivery of the lines is hilarious and the faces he makes are enough to make the viewers laugh – pay close attention to the look on his face right after Watson jumps on him when the ship is drowning and the gigantic chain is flying their way. All he has to do to captivate the audience is one look. And he can make every line funny, the example for that being Watson and Holmes debate over the words midget/dwarf at the cemetery.
Not only that it took a lot of talent from him and effort – from what I gathered Downey has read a lot about the character, but he himself stated that in order to prepare for the role as he wished to be prepared he would need few years, not just few months. It also took a lot of courage – the boxing scenes were shot for real – Robert did catch one of Robert Malliet (the actor who plays Dreger) punches, not to mention the fact at one point he was completely naked and only a pillow was covering him. May I add – that pillow is along with Pulp Fiction's briefcase and RocknRolla's painting most annoying device used in the movie in the history of the world. As Downey Jr's faithful fan I'm bewildered and I hate PG 13 movies even more...:)
Watson is played by Jude Law and as much as I don't find Law to be particularly amazing actor and I do think his looks are rather non-existing he was perfect. He was funny, he fits the role and he had great chemistry with Downey. That is really a fantastic duo and their fight scenes are one of the funniest scenes not just in the movie, but even in all of Guy Ritchie's hilarious filmography. A lot of talk about homoerotic tension – especially in Dave Letterman's show when Law appeared wearing lipstick and Downey didn't hold himself on any of his thoughts as usual – is justified. The movie is basically oozing with it and I loved it. But it is all of course just a subtext – two man have their leading ladies.
The only woman Holmes ever loved, the criminal Irene Adler is played by adorable Rachel McAdams. As much as I like her as an actress, especially for her work In 'The Notebook', 'Mean Girls' and 'State of Play' her talent and her wit fit the role, but the look doesn't. She looked as far from Victorian era girl as Keira Knightley in Pirates of the Carribean, with all that modern make up. I just wish Robert finally gets leading lady he deserves, McAdams plays the role well, but her looks which are extremely distinctive were distracting me the whole time. My dream actress for the role is either Michelle Williams or Scarlett Johansson.

Lord Blackwood, the movie villain is played by terrific Mark Strong. I really loved his work in 'Body of Lies' and I was absolutely blown away by what he did in 'RocknRolla'. He plays what can only be described as a deranged nationalist here, but he does this in a great way. He is menacing, convincing and he clearly has a lot of fun. I really loved the fact it seems that Ritchie also likes this guy, 'cause I'm still waiting for announced RocknRolla sequel.
Let's talk music for a moment, since the soundtrack, from the first listening is now on my top 10 soundtracks of all time. When I got it I didn't have any idea Hans Zimmer did it. And I love Hans. I have listened to most of his soundtracks and I'm always in awe for his work. But his compositions here are so unique and original there is no way to recognize his usual style in them. The music is mostly frenzy violins, powerful cellos and quirky xylophone and accordion. There is also a piano, which was purposely broken by Zimmer's crew in order to achieve that kind of drunken, crazy sound. There are few motifs that are played over and over– incredibly heartbreaking and beautiful violin part played among others during Blackwood's hanging and the final monologue by Holmes (Heard in “Ah, Putrefaction”, “Psychological Recovery....6 months” and “My Mind Rebels at Stagnation”), almost wipping violins in “Not in Blood, but in Bond” - played during dock explosion and the most powerful and almost crashing – at the very end of the end credits - “Catatonie”. Last 40 secons of this track are going to make your heart race like insane. There is no choir in the track but it as epic as epic can go. This is the most original soundtrack in a long time and certainly the best soundtrack of 2009. The Oscar nomination is well deserved and as saddened I am Robert didn't get one, I'm hoping at least Zimmer will get home with a golden statute on Sunday, March 7h.

The movie is not flawless – but it is fascinating. It is fun to listen to, watch, follow. It will make you gasp in astonishment and admiration for wonderful set pieces and images and it will make you laugh and quote the dialogues. It is carried by Robert Downey Jr, who has created a fascinating character, the one you never wanna stop looking at. The character, who captures the heart of the audience immediately and who guides us through dense, interesting and beautiful world, filled with logic...and also a lot of magic. And I'm not talking only about the cinematic kind of enchantment.

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