Cinematic Flashback: Sherlock Holmes (2009) Review
My powers and my assets were given to me for one purpose. A magnificent, but simple purpose: to create a new future. A future ruled by us. Tomorrow at noon, we take the first step towards a new chapter in our history. Magic will lead the way. Once the people of England see our newfound power they’ll bow down in fear. Across the Atlantic lies a colony that was once ours. It will be again. Their civil war has made them weak. Their government is as corrupt and as ineffective as ours…. so we’ll take it back. We will remake the world. Create the future as Jason’s Movie Blog takes a look at 2009’s Sherlock for a “cinematic flashback”!
“Crime Will Pay”
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg, and Lionel Wigram
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Strong
Run Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: December 25th, 2009
As a spate of ritualistic murders terrorizes late-1800s Victorian London, the lithe pugilist and debauched detective with the uncanny sense of deduction, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.), and his acutely observant brother-in-arms, Dr Watson (Jude Law), manage to send to the gallows their occultist arch-enemy, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). However, evil knows no boundaries–and as the disquieting rumors that the fiendish practitioner of the black arts has eluded death start to spread like wildfire–a mysterious copycat picks up where the deceased aristocrat left off. Now, against the backdrop of rampant superstition, Sherlock’s feisty old flame with a hidden agenda, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), has returned to further complicate matters, as the seemingly resurrected Blackwood continues his reign of terror. Has the dark lord, indeed, returned from the dead? Is he intent on slaughter and destruction?
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, I’ve had a lot of time to clean up various place throughout my house. So, I decided to clean up my movie collection; finding some movies I wanted to get rid of (only seeing once and not to my liking) and some that I wanted to revisit (even loaded a few “hidden gems” on my VUDU account). While sorting through this plethora DVDs and Blu-Ray, I came across Guy Ritchie’s two Sherlock Holmes movies; two feature films that I haven’t seeing in quite a while. So, I decided to watch both of them to pass the time and then decided to do a “cinematic flashback” on both of them…. starring with 2009’s Sherlock Holmes. I did see the movie when it originally came up (I think a few weeks after it was released) and I remembered that I liked it; finding the “updated” version of Sherlock Holmes a fun / enjoyable take on the classic literary character. So, let’s take a “cinematic flashback” of Sherlock Holmes and the movie that Guy Ritchie made.
Based on the literary figure that was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes is directed by Guy Ritchie, who previously directed Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Barrels and would eventually create the spy TV show remake of The Man from U.N.C.L.E (as a feature film) in 2015 as well as Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin in 2019. It goes without saying that Ritchie has a certain style he brings to much of his directorial works for theatrical storytelling. Its really hard to describe, but if you’ve seen several of his films, you’ll understand what I mean. Suffice to say, Ritchie brings his unique style to Sherlock Holmes; utilizing a sort of “cheekiness” to the proceedings; something that’s befitting towards the famed detective of Baker Street. Rather than making the film to be solely based on “clue finding”, Ritchie interjects plenty of “action” bits throughout the narrative; puncturing what could’ve been a rather “mundane” journey by using excitement and thrills elevate the story. In truth, even though the film’s setting feels appropriate the same as what Doyle envisioned the character to be in (a Victorian era), Ritchie’s reimagines the character for a more modern audience and certainly proves that. That’s not to say the movie isn’t deeply rooted in Sherlock mythos, with Ritchie (as well as the screenplay writers) respectfully keep the tone and mystery of super sleuthing very much intact of Doyle’s original design behind the character. Thus, Ritchie reimaging of Sherlock Holmes keeps one foot in the past, but one foot in a new direction; a result that definitely works to the film’s overall likeability and in cinematic storytelling of humor and danger.
In addition, the film’s visual aspect is very much “on-line” with Ritchie’s taste; depicting a Victorian-era London in a very real way of dirt and grime. The color pallet is muted throughout, but gives an intriguing look to it (spreading a very drab look of mystery and foreboding throughout) to it in oppose to “glamorizing” the film’s setting. Thus, I really do like the “look and feel” of the film’s visual background and setting aesthetics. Plus, the film’s score, which was done by famed composer Hans Zimmer, is good. It’s not his best scored film composition, but what Zimmer creates definitely speaks to Ritchie’s vision for Doyle’s legendary super sleuth.
There are a few problems that I had with this movie. The second act of the film was bit boring and felt the film’s story was getting a little bit bogged down for something that was suppose to be quite simply. In addition, there were a few times where the movie got away from itself and feels like Ritchie wanted was deviating a bit too far from what the writers intended. Yes, there’s plenty of playful banter, witty remarks, and Victorian-style danger throughout, but the story gets both a tad convoluted in the mystery surrounding Lord Blackwood’s return and a bit sidetrack in several of the minor plot threads that the movie tries to take on. The end result is something that seems a tad too ambitious for something that didn’t need to be, which (of course) makes the film have a few pacing issues and lacking a tightly compacted narrative within its runtime of two hours and nine minutes (probably could’ve been edited down a good ten minutes or so).
What definitely helps the movie rise above these challenges are the film’s cast of which they selected acting talents definitely bring “new life” to some of the classic characters. Naturally, actor Robert Downey Jr.’s part in the movie definitely helps the likeability in making Doyle’s iconic Sherlock Holmes character. Downey Jr., who is already a skilled actor, makes the character his own and brings a creative iteration to Holmes; making the character verbally fun and physical amusing to watch, with the talented actor putting a spin on him, but never sacrificing the intellect wit and bravado accustomed to the dutiful detective. Thus, it definitely feels in line with Ritchie’s vision for the story and for the movie. Likewise, actor Jude Law plays a fun twist on Holmes’s trusted companion, John Watson. Law definitely brings a level-headed (sometimes cynical / humorous) take on the character, which definitely compliments Downey Jr.’s persona for Sherlock; something that provides plenty of humorous remarks and witty banter between the two of them. Behind them, Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong do make for some convincing / fun characters, with McAdams playing a sly / cheeky version of Irene Alder while Strong depicts a classic villainous role of Lord Blackwood. There are a great host of characters (mostly playing some of Sherlock Holmes’s side characters) that are greatly played by the talents behind them and do make up the general likeable nature of the feature’s character roster (be it large or small).
Overall, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes was breath of fresh air for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character; bringing a sense of foreboding mystery and intrigue from its classic depths, while the movie’s adaptation brought forth a new imagining for the character; updating Holmes for a modern age but also sticking true to his characteristic mindset. While the film does struggle in its storytelling (with a few pacing issues), it does find a way to prove an entertaining piece of cinematic telling, especially thanks to Ritchie’s direction, action sequences, story proses, visual setting, and the acting talents (most notable Downey Jr. and Law). This is one film adaptation that’s worth looking at and definitely in the realm of Ritchie’s better works.
Cinematic Flashback Score: 4.0 out of 5
FUN FACT: In the original theatrical release of the film, Professor Moriarty, seen only in shadow, is voiced by an unknown actor, with director Guy Ritchie never identifying the voice / actor. This was done, before the official casting of actor Jared Harris as Moriarty in the film’s sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). However, since the release of the latter, Harris’s voice has been dubbed over the original actor’s voice, as to preserve continuity on all new DVD and Blu-Ray copies, as well as any televised showings.