' ' Cinema Romantico: Sherlock Holmes

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Waste: "to be consumed, spent, or employed uselessly or without giving full value or being fully utilized or appreciated."

If you were to enter any screenwriting class across the country (collegiate or otherwise) within 20 minutes you would hear the following words: "Show, don't tell." And yes, for the most part, this ancient rule of thumb is a good one. But rules are not hard and fast. Consider 1934's "The Thin Man", a film which consists almost entirely of showing us nothing while allowing William Powell as detective Nick Charles to tell us just about everything. In fact, the sequence at the end of Powell explaining all in great detail is blatant exposition. It's also rather thrilling. You really want to cut out the verbal stylings of Powell and his co-star Myrna Loy to focus on a bunch of images?

The latest retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's ace detective has a wonderous, droll lead performance by the versatile Robert Downey Jr. that is begging for director Guy Ritchie's always helter skelter filmmaking style to slow down and pay more attention to it. All throughout "Sherlock Holmes" you get the sense Ritchie's storyboarding came above all else. "It's crucial the movie ends with this setpiece." "But how are we going to get them there?" "I don't care! Just get them there! If you ruin this hella cool shoot I've got planned, so help me God...." Sure, sure, there are some cool shots, like one aboard a rusty ship on the Thames in a sorta eerie nighttime Victorian London. But wait! Who's that guy on the ship talking? Isn't his name the title of the movie? Can't we hear just a few more things he has to say before the movie cuts to....too late.

The story, or, shall we say, the "story", concerns Holmes and his ever trusty accomplice in justice Watson (Jude Law) sending villainous Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) to the gallows except, of course, it turns out Lord Blackwood isn't really dead at all. Or he was dead and has returned from the dead. And this all concerns plans so diabolical there is no way they can be fit into one film and, thus, no attempt is made to hide the fact a sequel will be forthcoming. (Perhaps in the sequel Sherlock Holmes will engage in some "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"-esque action? I can't wait!)

The banter between Holmes and Watson is played with great flair by both actors but, again, the film too often chooses to ignore that banter in place of gunfights and underground fight clubs. And don't even get me started on Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, the obligatory femme fatale, who is completely and really quite pathetically underused, a fact which infuriates me so much I am fighting off the urge to punch my computer screen. They couldn't give her one good line?! Just one?! How hard is that?! Really?! Our society is more friendly to females in this day and age than it was in the 30's, right? So how come Myrna Loy got tons of great lines and Rachel McAdams is hung out to dry?

I know precisely how all this comes across - a reviewer who has a specific image of a famed character in his head and who is now upset that character has been transformed into something else. This is inaccurate. I can't say I know all that much about the history of Sherlock Holmes. I guess my most distinct image of him has always been Basil Rathbone but not getting Basil Rathbone here is of no consequence. What I object to is a film that refuses to play to its obvious strength. Robert Downey Jr. is clearly having fun but we do not get to see near enough of him having fun. Worse yet, we don't get to hear enough of him having fun.

"The Pirates of the Carribean" sequels were terrible because the filmmakers forgot their finest effect had nothing to do with CGI - it was Johnny Depp walking. The finest export "Sherlock Holmes" has to offer isn't slo-mo fisticuffs - it's Robert Downey Jr. talking. Too bad no one noticed.


Castor said...

I actually enjoyed the movie but I agree with your assessment of the movie. I guess I remember the good parts and tried to minimize the bad stuff. The movie does slow down dramatically when Holmes is by himself, which he is far too often.

Definitely agree with you on poor Rachel McAdams being completely wasted. She gets an intriguing introduction, and then... nothing. We wait and wait and she is just thrown into the fray in the final action scene with no screen time to establish herself. This may be a trick to re-introduce her organically in the sequel but that's a stupid trick.

Rory Larry said...

This was like watching a bad mix and match of "Wild, Wild, West" and "Shanghai Knights". And when you are mixing two terrible movies and mixing them badly, if that is possible, you end up with crap.

McAdams wasted? She was so boring to watch. It was all boring to watch. And that terrible explain the fight scene before we see the fight scene? what the heck was that about? Downey had more chemistry with Gweneth Paltrow (talk about an indictment).

Nick Prigge said...

Well, of course she was boring to watch. All actors are boring to watch when they're given NOTHING TO DO.


IRENE ADLER enters room, looking suspiciously like window dressing.

To paraphrase the late Paul Newman, give an actor a great script and they'll move the world. Give an actor "Sherlock Holmes" and, well, obviously.