Ritchie reinvents a classic with Sherlock Holmes
Long before the airing of Monk, another eccentric private investigator fought crime using his own unique methods. Residing at No. 221B Baker Street, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes is possibly the most famous fictional detective in the world. Holmes prowled through the streets of London and across the pages of 56 short stories and four novels, as well as over 211 films, and this past year he made his most recent appearance in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.
Robert Downey Jr. joins the list of 76 actors who have portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the past. Becoming one of the most depicted movie characters in history is a daunting challenge in itself. As with other directors who were faced with the task of converting a well-loved story into a movie, Ritchie dealt with the problem of creating a new production while remaining true to the story itself.
Sherlock Holmes begins with the Baker Street detective and his good friend and chronicler Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law, preventing a human sacrifice by a mysterious cult. Good old Inspector Lestrade shows up, late as usual, to apprehend a key figure in the cult: Lord Blackwell, prominent in high society, politics, and apparently witchcraft as well. Blackwell is executed after delivering mysterious words of warning to Holmes, who takes the foreboding message nonchalantly and falls into a fit of boredom in the weeks following the arrest. Blackwell is duly hanged, and Watson himself declares the lord dead, but the sentence turns out to be not as binding as expected.
This film can be characterized as an attempt to turn the classic story of Sherlock Holmes into a true Hollywood action-packed adventure, to the point of Ritchie adding a few pieces of his own. All the big-league characters of Holmes lore are present, including Irene Adler — played by Rachel McAdams — who was always known to Holmes as “the” woman, and his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty.
Ritchie has included many aspects of the books in his movie, including several scenes from the anthologies. When bored, Downey Jr.’s Holmes does indeed shoot a patriotic V.R. into his room’s wall, he tests poisons on his own dog, and he retains his boxing prowess and connections among the London criminal underworld.
On the infamous Irene Adler, a romantic tension and near make-out scene between her and Holmes was inevitable in a movie version. As the most mysterious and dangerous female character, her performance was mildly interesting to follow, but not enthralling or as haunting or memorable as the original character would lead the audience to believe. “By far, it was one of the worst acting jobs by a leading lady I’ve seen in a long time,” Aurelia Henderson, a first-year in H&SS majoring in creative writing announced. “Nothing about her was bad-ass.”
The plot was intriguing and far more interesting in its final reveal as a story of logic and lust for power, a web spun by the mortal but intimidating hands of Professor Moriarty rather than a fanciful black magic theme. A conflict not much remarked upon in the books became a central issue in the movie — that of Watson leaving bachelorhood and adventures behind to live a quiet married life. This new issue effectively brought Holmes’ and Watson’s characters and relationships to light, allowing the audience to better know them while providing an opportunity for wonderful banter and quick wit between the two friends.
Amidst pistol and fist fights, seductions, and journeys to the high waters of both treason and the Thames, this film presents a highly exaggerated version of the mystery classic, which, though giving new audiences a false image of the books themselves, is entertaining.