Somehow, i've always avoided the cinematic (or TV) presentations of Sherlock Holmes. I find the character fascinating, but i always felt it was more invested in literature, not cinema. His deductions, the way he surrounds the worlds he investigates are a feast for thinking minds. Even when the deductions are over the top (which happens often!) one can't stop smiling at the cleverness. More than that, the character is a perfect piece invested in a clever, irresistible and fascinating world. London. That part is visual, and a good ground to invest a cinematic world. But, unlike for example anything by Agatha Christie, Doyle's cleverness is rooted in pure deductive logic, not on the mechanics of the world. Notice that Christie's crimes are many times a matter of understanding how things happened, spatially (murder on the orient express is the zenith of that). I suppose Doyle formed his mind before cinema had any significant impact on how our minds work.
So the challenge for any modern filmmaker, and actor, who wants to update Holmes, is to make the character more cinematic, more appealing. Several tricks are used here, most of them successful, even if straightforward. One is the most obvious, making Holmes an action character (which actually is in its original dna, even though TV productions usually ignore that). This might be a flop, and make the version laughable, but by now there is a sense of irony and self awareness in Ritchie's films (sincer Lock Stock) that allows him to support a xxi century action figure in Holmes clothing that actually is watchable. A minor trick here is the association of the deduction with the very process of physical fighting, which creates some Matrix moments. Well, their watchable, though not particularly interesting. In the greater arc, there are good action sequences, because, as any competent action these days, considers the elements of the surrounding space, and uses them.
But there are two big things in this film, which take it to new levels of interest.
One is the acting. Jude Law is a clever guy, an interesting actor whose greatest quality is how he merges anonymously with the context he is intended to integrate. He willingly becomes a piece of a larger tapestry, and that really is something to look upon. There are not many actors who can claim they can do this competently. But the king of the game is Downey Jr. He is the gold piece in the puzzle of updating Holmes. There certainly will be a before-after Holmes character, with this film. The man is capable to work his performances on several directions, and each of them is a perfect link to its surroundings. So he gives in to Ritchie's demands, and introduces humour, irony, and self-awareness in the character, to make it usable for the director's winks at ironic action. He invests totally on the creation of a character who merges with the textures of the context, while being distinct from it. And while doing it, he folds us into his game, so we do everything with him, side by side. We deduce, we smile, we run, all with him. So, if the film hadn't other qualities, Downey Jr would still make it worthy, because he, alone, solves one the most basic problems with any film: to find a channel audiences can safely cross into the game someone (director) proposes. He is one of the best ever.
But there is another great thing here, which i suspect has a lot to do with several guys involved in the process of making the film. The result is an incredible sense of placement. London, XIXth century. All those dirty muddy streets, all the dirt. The fascination of the inner locations, namely the midget's laboratory. How those sets are usable, in the action scenes. That's all competent, more than competent. It's perfectly rendered, carefully photographed, it sounds overly artificial, but it's a matter of taste, i suppose. But what was really striking was the use of the London bridge. Notice how it is announced, early in the film, with a similar perspective to the one we'll get in the end. Than, the great sequence, when Irene Adler goes through the sewage, goes up, and we end up with a close up of her, in an unidentified location. The angle opens, we move away, and we are set up in the location for the final fight scene, which in its own merits is interesting enough. So, this was a unique way to actually use an establishing location, instead of merely showing it. I mean, how many films have shown the Eiffel towers? countless. How many actually use it? not so many. This is one of the best London cities we've seen lately.
My opinion: 4/5
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