Sunday, February 7, 2010

Elementary School

I'm getting lazy in my old age. I saw Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes almost a week ago and only now am I getting around to putting up my two cents' worth about it. Maybe that's because I wasn't particularly moved one way or the other. (The Other Boleyn Girl seemed much more engaging.)

It's a little surprising even to me that I've never been much taken with Sherlock Holmes, loving film noir and crime drama as I do. I've listened to a number of the radio drama adaptations of his adventures, but his stereotyped methodology of ingenious deduction just doesn't do much for me. At least not as it's typically presented. (I remember Matthew Pearl's book The Poe Shadow, wherein everyone was taken with Poe's detective from The Murders In The Rue Morgue. The detective, August Dupont, had "invented" the "science" of "ratio-cination," the skill of miraculous deduction. Sherlock Holmes seems to be very much a practitioner of the same arts as August Dupont, and I recall despising the whole ratiocination business in Pearl's book. At least I am consistent.)

Maybe director Ritchie (who is remembered for... I guess I don't really have any idea how he got this job) has the same feelings for the traditional tweed-wearing, meerschaum-pipe-smoking Sherlock Holmes as I do, which would explain why he strayed so far from that formula. Ritchie's Holmes is a young, very fit semi-recluse who is prone to substance abuse (which of these things is not like the others?) and uses his deductive skills, when he's not solving crimes, to, uh, minutely plot his strategy in the fighting ring.

Yeah. (sigh. Well, maybe he's gotta be fit to look respectable, shirtless in the fighting ring, to the slow-mo cameras. Maybe the cocaine helps him keep trim and it's actually much more consistent than my own ratiocination would deduce.)

I mean, that's the stupidity in a nutshell. This seems a typically hollywood-twisted crime fantasy that just doesn't have any reality in it. An OK initial concept made ridiculous by the addition of a huge dollop of Jerry Bruckheimer. Holmes performs superhuman feats, and witnesses supernatural occurrences, only to toss off the ridiculously improbable explanations at the film's end, explaining one absurdity with another at least as glaring. The whole thing is one giant deus ex machina.

There are a couple things that rescued my movie watching experience from being completely drowned in irritation. First, the three main characters are at least watchable. Robert Downey and Jude Law and Rachel McAdams are all fun to look at, and they put a little spice into their work. I didn't find any particular chemistry between Downey and Law, though I've heard some mention of how well they play off each other. Their banter seems just what has been rather clumsily pounded into the script--no more, no less (and I've heard several criticisms that the dialog is hard to understand--I'm inclined to agree); but each actor is skilled enough to do the best with the tools they are given. Second, the movie is fantastic looking. That's maybe the biggest thing for me. A film can do so much to take one back in time, and there's a great sense of London 100 years ago on the screen. I imagine that a little scrutiny applied to the details will show an excess of Hollywood license here as well. But for all we non-scholars, it's fun to pay a little visit to antiquity. Oh yeah, and the credit sequence is inventive and fun.

But that's about it for me.

Grade: C-


dbackdad said...

I've waffled quite a bit on whether I was going to go see this. I'm not a big Sherlock Holmes person, so that wasn't a deciding factor. But I am a fan of Guy Ritchie's gritty, stylish British capers (Snatch, Lock Stock ...). I do like Downey, Law, and McAdams. But your review indicates to me that there's not enough there to make it a must-see. Maybe it will be a rental for me.

I saw The Lovely Bones in the last week. Not sure if I'm going to muster a whole review of it or maybe just talk about it a bit in the comment section of my review of the book on my blog last fall.

wunelle said...

I've wondered about The Lovely Bones.

If you like Ritchie, then I'd recommend seeing Holmes. I think his style is one of the great things the film has going for it. I don't know much of his style, I think, so I have no real attachment. But I think most of my grade is due to the not-great fit between the movie and my personal tastes.