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Sherlock Holmes (2009 movie)

A 2009 film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional character of the same name

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(3.5/5) Well Acted and Fun; Not Especially Well Written

  • Jan 2, 2010
As 2009 came to a close there were two movies in particular that were released that people had their eye on.  The first was Avatar, James Cameron's amazing visual spectacle.  The other was Sherlock Holmes, which dropped just after Christmas.  When it came to Sherlock Holmes it was hard to say what to think of it.

I rarely delight in movie previews and it's even rarer that I look at a preview and think to myself, "There's something that isn't right about this..."  The only time I ever do that, in all seriousness is when Hollywood makes another crappy video game adaptation.  Yet the preview of Sherlock Holmes makes Holmes seem less like the character some of us have read about and heard so much about.  It's probably not much of a big deal for those who didn't read Holmes ever.  Case in point, those who were a fan of the books probably took one look at the preview and thought they'd somehow been betrayed.  I won't touch that, instead I'll step back and look at what we get from Sherlock Holmes for what it is.  Going into this particular film with that sort of mindset is going to reap disappointment.  This isn't meant to be a straight shot adaptation of Sherlock Holmes but rather a slightly different (slightly?) reinterpretation of the character.  There are some parts of the film that work rather well and others that might leave you scratching your head.  Particularly that the mystery in and of itself doesn't get much attention at all.  It's great that we put a lot of focus on Holmes and Watson, but the plot and mystery hardly gets any attention.  If you're able to put together all the clues that Holmes finds just lying around I'd be surprised--the film hardly gives you a moment to put them together.

Robert Downey Jr. plays the eccentric intellectual who is known for his deductive reasoning and being very observational.  This is played out in the first few minutes of the film as we see Holmes use his own deductive reasoning to take down a bad guy near the beginning.  The directing style in these moments is interesting, to say the least, and the editing is also done pretty well with these moments because they play out exactly as he deducts them (you might think of them as flash forwards rather than flashbacks).  Holmes works on his own, however.  By that I mean without the interference from the police.  He does, of course, have Watson, who is played by Jude Law.  And the film works well on this front because it will certainly make sure you know that Watson and Holmes need each other.  Unfortunately, in this regard the film doesn't really reach very high.  The friendship is great and the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law is fantastic, but there are moments where the film seems to be shoving this, "The two need each other," stuff in your face.  Watson's lover Mary, for example, seems to be there only to demonstrate how much Holmes needs Watson and how much Watson needs to be there for Holmes.  Other than that she feels like a tacked on character to show us what the film spends nearly it's entire outing doing: Showing us that Holmes and Watson are a team.  That might not have been so bad had they actually done something to show us Mary as a character and not quite as a simplistic device.

Mark Strong plays lord Blackwood, who seems to be dwelling into some sort of black magic.  The film begins with his capture.  It gets the ball rolling, however, when it appears that Lord Blackwood has risen from the grave and is preparing to wreck more havoc.  It's up to Sherlock Holmes to stop him.  Watson, of course, comes along for the ride but there's a subplot involving an old flame named Irene (Rachel McAdams) who has managed to outsmart Holmes twice in the past.  It's hard to say what exactly is going on with Irene, but one thing becomes clear: Lord Blackwood isn't the only one who Holmes needs to be on the lookout for.

If there was one thing Sherlock Holmes does have it's a good cast.  Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams in particular do fantastic jobs in their roles.  Especially Downey Jr., who is very charming in his role.  He adds a decent amount of comedy to the film, or at least clever quips.  On the other hand, the screenplay isn't nearly as clever as it thinks it is.  While the lines of dialog are snappy it's primarily the story and mystery in and of itself where Sherlock Holmes just isn't as enticing. 

Sherlock Holmes is not really much of a mystery movie as it is a movie about its title character.  For the most part there's a lot of stuff that you'll see coming a mile away, but that's hardly the problem with the screenplay.  The problem is the stuff you don't see coming.  It can feel as though it was pulled out of left field.  Holmes is a brilliant character, we know that, but in moments where he's inspecting a crime scene we're left to wonder if he's really Sherlock Holmes or if he's really MacGuyver.  He puts certain things together that the audience isn't really able to put together themselves.  It isn't that the audience can't, it's that the film doesn't show us the clues and hints long enough for most of the movie goers to play along with the mystery.  Whenever a moment where Sherlock Holmes goes into one of his explanations where he was able to deduce something it's hard not to imagine the audience scratching their head at some point and thinking, "How did he put THAT one together?"  Including, on far more than one occasion, moments where you think to yourself, "How did he know?"  The movie is hardly convoluted, it comes together in the end perfectly, it's just that the audience can't really deduce anything.  

Part of that has to do with the style which, I must say, works.  Whenever Holmes goes into deducing things it's really nice.  You won't get any "Aha!" type moments (like I said, you're hardly shown anything for more than a second to make any real connections yourself) but it's good to know that at least they were intent on making sure you knew how Holmes came to his conclusions.  At times his deducing can feel as though it were ripped straight out of an episode of CSI.  It has that sort of dreamlike feel to it that we are being taken back in time and shown things.  The problem is that in many cases they're things the audience just couldn't pick up on.  They all come together, but the way it's done make it seem like some of it is pulled right out of the air.  At the very least Guy Ritchie has a nice style that should the series continues, would definitely be welcome in the future.  His portrayal of Holmes as a more curious and eccentric man might also help things along as well.

On the other hand, there is some action here.  Not nearly as much as you might think, however.  For the most part the movie spends a lot more time with dialog and handing us clues.  The fight scenes are lengthy but hey're choreographed really well, however and often come in moments where you might find the movie needs to pick up the pace.  It's an enjoyable film for the most part... in terms of its visual appeal and acting... but the screenplay needed some work to make it more coherent.  We understand that Sherlock Holmes is smart, but I see no reason why the audience isn't given much to sort of try and piece things together themselves.  This is what I mean by it spends hardly any time on the mystery and a bit more time focusing on other things.  Holmes even has moments where he deduces things we can't even see.  You can give credit to Guy Ritchie really abusing the Red Herring, but it would've been really nice if it could've come together without having to make Holmes constantly link it together.  By that I simply mean there's hardly any way any of US watching can put it together.  Again, it's like when you saw MacGuyver make a gadget out of anything.  None of the pieces made any goddamn sense but he could somehow put them together to make SOMETHING that would always be conveniently useful in a situation.  With the movie Sherlock Holmes it's worse.  Near the end when it keeps happening it borders on being a Deus Ex Machina AND as a device to that Guy Ritchie can fill in any plot device he damn well chooses.  If Guy Ritchie had directed Transformer: Revenge of the Fallen he'd have had Sherlock Holmes at the end ready to explain just why the movie made no fucking sense.  It definitely helps to fill in the pieces but other times it also comes off as a very convenient excuse.

As I said, however, there are moments that are quite predictable.  It might not be obvious how the clues come together, but the twists and turns and the betrayals are all too obvious.  The worst part of all, however, is that while the case involving Blackwood gets solved, the movie leaves you hanging on the other subplot.  A sequel is probably a must in that case, but it just kind of sucks to put in a subplot that quite literally goes no where and just sort of ends.  It leaves a lot to be desired that only a sequel can fix.  There are very few movies that can do the cliffhanger thing well.  Sherlock Holmes is not one of them.

In the end the action is nice, but that's not nearly as big as you might think.  What is nice is that the acting and the fight scenes make it worth watching.  It's the story in and of itself that might leave some feeling a little estranged.  With Holme's moments of just sitting there and explaining stuff to the audience (and other characters--but at least it isn't done in an insulting way) it can feel like the length is being padded out.  Indeed, the movie is 134 minutes long, but it's paced rather well and doesn't necessarily feel that long.  So it's worth going to see, at least, although you might not want to expect too much from the story.

What did you think of this review?

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January 14, 2010
How sad. I was really looking forward to this even though I was having a hard time picturing Downey as Holmes. What I feared the most came to pass--Holmes "re-imagined".
January 02, 2010
"...the problem is though it was pulled from left field" Nicely put, Sean. I hate mediocre mysteries that throw the solution straight at your face that it feels like it lacked credibiltiy. Excellent review, bud, if it weren't for the cast, then this flick would have gotten a 2 from me.
January 03, 2010
Yeah, not exactly one of those movies I'd rally buy or anything.  If it came on one of those movie channels I might stop and for a minute.  It was fun but I'm not all that crazy about the screenplay.
More Sherlock Holmes (2009 movie) reviews
review by . December 13, 2010
Lord Blackwood, serial killer and black occultist, has finally been brought to justice. Returning from the grave only gives more weight to his already potent reputation, as well as his ominous predictions of what is to yet to come. Yet, Sherlock Holmes seems too preoccupied with the imminent loss of his life-long bachelor friend and valued assistant, Dr. Watson, to act effectively against Blackwood's schemes.      Love seems to be the only thing to truly confound and successfully …
review by . August 17, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****    Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" stylistically reverses the intentions that we are to expect from both cinematic and non-cinematic outings starring everyone's favorite titular sleuth. While we're used to an intelligent, perplexing labyrinth of a mystery; Ritchie's attempted "update" on the character and the "Sherlock Holmes" universe itself presents us with a mystery that is almost decidedly simplistic yet creatively drawn out for a larger, more modern and mainstream …
review by . December 29, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
FUN, Nicely Acted But the Screenplay is Very
   Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and this character has clearly become a household name in the books of detective thrillers. Once again, Hollywood intends to re-imagine/revive/ re-issue the beloved detective under Guy Ritchie’s direction in 2009’s “SHERLOCK HOLMES”. Many folks would describe this movie as entertaining, fun and a piece of diversion. Diversion is such a loose word to use to describe a movie; after all even a shitty movie can …
review by . December 30, 2009
 ... while spinning in his urn, most likely. Robert Downey Jr once again proves himself to be the best actor of his generation and without him this movie would limp along, and its inconsequential paper-thin plot would be much more grating. Perhaps the biggest crime in the film is that Holmes - as a 2-dimensional vehicle for awesomely-intriguing detective tricks - is given a really lousy case that relies on some massive leaps of logic and an almost physic predictive ability.      …
review by . January 02, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Through all the grime and soot of old London towne, Holmes found that clue.
It's probably a good thing that I've never read a Sherlock Holmes story as I might have only gone into this movie with a laundry list of facts and tidbits and leaving the theater annoyed at how much was spat on if in fact it was.      With what I know about Sherlock Holmes, being an urbane, professional, intellectual with his cap on his head and calabash in mouth, it was odd to see him a sweaty, dirty, fussy and unshaven pit fighting brawler with a dinky little pipe.  …
review by . May 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
SHERLOCK HOLMES       I wanted to see this movie so bad because I have always been a fan of Holmes and of course of Robert Downey Jr. So I was a bit disappointed when I missed it in the theaters and had to wait for the DVD/Blu Ray release and all that. So as I waited some things went down but eventually it was released. So naturally I went out and had to own this even without seeing it. Still that didn't matter we all wanted to see it so off we went to view the new Holmes movie. …
review by . March 31, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
  Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his assistant Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) have just closed another case by capturing Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who has dealt with murder, and been very involved with black magic. Lord Blackwood is hanged for his crimes; however, after several months rumors begin to spread that he is in fact still alive, by apparently using more magic to keep himself from dying. When Blackwood's coffin is opened, it is found that another man is there, and Blackwood's …
review by . March 25, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Several years ago my brother introduced me to the films of Guy Ritchie. Fun stories, insane amounts of gun fire and some serious profanity. I remember getting my first taste of Jason Statham and not being able to contain my excitement when a fight was about to break out on screen and he was in the scene. Sherlock Holmes brings elements of past Ritchie films and incorporates the style with a classic Holmes story. And just as I yelled for blood during his previous movies, I did the same watching Holmes …
review by . January 05, 2010
A thoroughly entertaining take on Sherlock Holmes. A lot of UK critics seemed to have a downer on it, saying it runs out of steam, or the bromance elements of the Holmes/Watson relationship got tired, but I don't agree. The story for the most part cracks along, and Downey Jr and Law maintain the odd couple thing ably.       Plus, some fans may be miffed at how the Holmes character is portrayed as a brawling, dirty scruffbag. As I understand it though, …
Quick Tip by . December 29, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A little slow and boring to start but it gets better and has a very good and unexpected ending. Worth the watch for sure.
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Sherlock Holmes
is a film starring Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law and Rachel McAdams.  The film will be released on Christmas Day 2009.

Sherlock Holmes is a 2009 film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional character of the same name. The film was directed by Guy Ritchie and produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey and Dan Lin. The screenplay by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg is based on Lionel Wigram's story and Doyle's characters. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law respectively portray Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The film was released in the United States on December 25, 2009 and on December 26, 2009 in the UK and the Pacific.

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Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: December 25, 2009
Studio: Warner Bros Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures
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