After my experience with the negative impact of high expectations for The Hurt Locker, I now have a perfect example of the opposite… the positive impact of low expectations for the delightful Sherlock Holmes.
I’d written this one off as a rental, if that, based on my low opinion of director Guy Ritchie and less than stellar reviews. But when my wife and I wanted a nice cinematic diversion the other night and didn’t want to travel across the county to find it, Sherlock Holmes emerged as the best candidate (I promptly vetoed Leap Year when that possibility came up).
I was a big Sherlock Holmes fan during junior high and high school, though I haven’t given him much thought since then. But my inner 14-year-old bristled at the thought of Ritchie turning the beloved Holmes into a slow-mo kung-fu fighter, as the trailer suggested. Why modernize and make hip something decidedly (and wonderfully) old-fashioned?
But my worries were for naught. Ritchie’s Holmes, as portrayed by the always excellent Robert Downey Jr., is true to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. The slow motion in the trailer, it turns out, was not some stab at a Matrix-style action scene but an illustration of how the cerebral Holmes dissects a fight beforehand in order to plan his course of action. And Doyle’s Holmes was indeed a man of action.
Admittedly, Doyle probably couldn’t have imagined that action brought to life through the magic of CGI, but I’m guessing he would be more than pleased with the combination of smarts, brawn and humor put on screen in Sherlock Holmes.
I’ve long been fascinated by Holmes’ observational genius — that ability to divine everything important about a suspect from a cursory glance. A scuff on a shoe can betray the location of the villain’s secret lair; a tan line on a woman’s ring finger offers a window to her romantic history. These powers excite me far more than supernatural abilities or high-tech gadgetry. It’s a talent I’ve envied since reading the stories as a boy, and one I’ve always wanted to possess.
Sadly, I’m on quite the opposite side of the spectrum. Just this afternoon, after staring in the cupboard for several minutes, I complained to my wife that we had no jelly, only to have her point out that it was behind the Pam. I suspect Holmes would not have had that problem.
Sherlock Holmes makes fine use of Holmes’ observational gifts, and that’s my favorite part of the movie. Holmes is such a fascinating character because he’s deeply flawed but even more deeply talented. And Downey, about whom you can say the same thing, plays both facets brilliantly.
Apart from the case at hand (which involves a practitioner of black magic and his plot to overthrow the British government), the film is a love story of sorts between Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson (played by Jude Law). Watson is recently engaged and planning to move out of the shared bachelor’s quarters at 221B Baker Street, and Holmes will have none of it. A more traditional romantic interest shows up in the person of Rachel McAdams as a cunning con artist from Holmes’ past but the central relationship definitely belongs to the two men.
The film’s open-ended conclusion, and the close to $200 million it’s made at the box office, guarantee we’ll see Downey don the topcoat and pipe again. You can definitely count me in for the sequel. But a word of warning… thanks to the fine job Ritchie and company have done on this film, my expectations will be a lot higher next time.