“Sherlock Holmes” Review: The Case of the Identity Crisis

No deerstalker hat and cape in this story. Poster from Warner Bros. Studios
No deerstalker hat and cape in this story. Poster from Warner Bros. Studios.

I am a notoriously avid reader. During middle school, I was reading one book after another, almost nonstop. Among the books I acquired then was the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I finished the two volumes in about two months, and I was smitten by the character. Observant and intelligent, the man could tell you who you were, where you were from, and what your business was. Yet, I was already familiar with the name Sherlock Holmes. When I was younger, after school cartoons took priority over homework. In between the X-Men reruns and Digimon episodes, I enjoyed the animated “Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century.”  Extraordinarily silly with early 21st century computer graphics, the series had a pistol packing Holmes and a robot Watson tackling Doyle’s stories set in a futuristic London.

Imagine my surprise this past Christmas when I went to see the highly anticipated Sherlock Holmes and found the physical sort of detective instead of the cerebral type. However, at least this film was set in Victorian England. I had been waiting for this movie since I found out one of my favorite actors, Robert Downey Jr., was set to star as one of my favorite literary characters. Thrilled as more details leaked onto film blogs, my heart fell when I found out Guy Richie was attached to direct. I had managed to avoid his movies ever since being scarred by the Madonna-led Swept Away. I had hopes that the writers would protect Holmes’ character from being transformed into Jason Borne.

As usual, Downey turns in a great performance; his acting was one of the few highlights for me. He assimilated to the British accent and the setting, much like he did for his Oscar nominated role in Chaplin. Yet, I do not believe he was given time to let Holmes’ clever qualities shine. Downey stated he trained for this role by enlisting in martial arts classes. I hated yet loved the brutal fight scenes shot in stylized slow motion. On one hand, it is one of the few times this version of Holmes is permitted intellectual brilliance as he plans out his attack and predicts his opponent’s sustained injuries. Yet, a karate-chopping Sherlock is rather out of character for a man that always used brains over brawn.  I ask that this movie not be your introduction to Sherlock Holmes, as there are so many other Basil Rathbone starring films that are much more loyal to the character. I’ll even permit Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as it stays true to a lot of the characteristics that were a part of Doyle’s creation.

I also struggled to accept Jude Law as Watson. Granted, he gives a great performance, but physically speaking, I felt that Law would have been better suited in the leading role as the tall, lean Sherlock. I felt at odds between the chemistry between Downey and Law. Much ado about the “bromance” between the two, but it was not the codependent relationship as described in the stories. Fault my thinking, but I did not enjoy the almost equal footing I felt the two characters shared. Watson’s loyalty to Holmes feels half-hearted, as Holmes has to lure Watson into his shenanigans for the thrill of adventure more so than for the sake of companionship. In the stories, the two distinctly different personalities complement each other: where Holmes would employ logic and deductive reasoning, Watson would use emotional and physical strength. By making the characters more alike for combat and entertainment, their working methods shifted as well.

Only in film did Sherlock face the Loch Ness Monster and Jack the Ripper. So is it excusable that in the new incarnation, Sherlock faces a dark wizard? Sorry if the Harry Potter series has me tired out on dark lords, but I found it disappointing that I already knew who the bad guy was ten minutes into the film. The classic suspense of “whodunit?” is gone and what is left is the how, which was quite easy to figure out even before Holmes explained it all. Instead, there are a few cheap moments of suspense here and there to keep your interest, but nothing like a riveting plot twister.

There were many differences between Richie’s Sherlock Holmes and Doyle’s detective. I do not believe it was the worst movie Richie directed, however it was not about the detective at 221B Baker Street. This Holmes had a mischievous air about him, wore rather rumpled clothes for a distinguished Victorian man, seemed to have an affectionate affair with Irene Adler, and is accused of being dirty. I felt the dialog lacked sharp wit needed for Holmes, and harbored a lot of resentment from Watson’s character.  I’m sorry folks, but this is not the Sherlock Holmes Doyle wrote about. The messy room and opiate use are the only things that tie the two characters together, and the latter issue doesn’t play a significant role in Doyle’s stories. Oh, the two characters also happen to share names.

The worst part is possibly the in vitro-like placement of a sequel/franchise potential. God Save the Queen and Sherlock Holmes’ legacy.

About Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo (CAS '11) is a Film writer for the Quad. Drawn into the world of film studies accidentally, she's continued on writing, writing, and writing about film since. She also co-writes on another blog, http://beyondthebacklot.wordpress.com/, which is about even geekier film stuff. If you have the time, she would love to watch a movie with you.

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4 Comments on ““Sherlock Holmes” Review: The Case of the Identity Crisis”

  1. Lets also not forget Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler. I expected more from McAdams. I wanted her to bring more depth and complications to Adler’s character. Compared to Holmes and Watson it felt as though Irene Adler was a cardboard cut out.

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