Monday 12 December 2011

From the archive: "Sherlock Holmes"

If there's one phrase guaranteed to send a chill down a critic's spine more than "reenvisioning of", it's "Guy Ritchie's reimagining of". There must, surely, be a filmmaker less qualified to bringing Conan Doyle's master detective to the screen, but I'll be darned if I can think of one right now. Ever since the much-derided Revolver - an existential misfire that sought to explore the darker recesses of Jason Statham's cranium - Ritchie has limited himself to physical rather than mental pursuits. So it is that his Sherlock (Robert Downey Jr., strained and fidgety), introduced free-running and wielding a truncheon against his foes, spends his off-nights bare-knuckle boxing to the accompaniment of Oirish pipe-and-drum music, as though an ancestor of Brad Pitt in Ritchie's Snatch. When he disagrees with Holmes, this Watson (Jude Law) simply retorts with a fist to the face; even the usually fragrant Rachel McAdams is styled like a common harlot and made to carry a billy-club about her person.

The result is not just a vulgarisation of its source but - rather less predictably - of its director, too, whose usual energies dissipate having to turn every crime scene into a fight scene. We get the worst of Ritchie - the incoherent set-pieces, the ADD-ish inability to hold any shot for longer than two beats at a time - without what one hesitates to describe as his best: a committee-authored screenplay means there's none of the sometimes sparky wideboy banter with which the filmmaker made his name. The presiding auteur here turns out not to be Conan Doyle, nor Ritchie, really, but producer Joel Silver, whose hallmarks the resultant film - long-seeming, and overly reliant on expensive production design for whatever wow factor it has - displays. Sherlock Holmes manages one deft touch right at the start, when the Warner Bros. logo appears set in the London cobblestones; the rest, I'm afraid, is just cobblers.

(December 2009)

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