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Hollywood Holmes

Wednesday, April 7, 2010
by

Jeremy Brett.

These two words swirled mournfully through my head the entire time I was watching Guy Ritchie’s big budget, Hollywood Holmes.

The late Jeremy Brett played the great detective on British television in the 1980s and 90s. He was the Holmes I grew up with, and for me, his is the ultimate interpretation. He had the sallow, thin features, hooking nose and mischievous eyes, combined with a great theatricality that made his Holmes the kind of character you wished was in every scene, and thankfully, he usually was.

Now, I have nothing against reinvisionings of classics, or not so classics, if they’re done well. What I do object to is a dumbing down of a classic hero for the sake of appealing to the lowest common denominator (you know who you are…).

I wanted to like Sherlock Holmes. I’m a fan of Robert Downey Jr. I think he’s a great actor – he, like Jeremy Brett, can dominate a scene; you always want to watch him. Sadly, however, I think he was miscast as Holmes – or at the very least, it appears as if he was given no direction other than to be Robert Downey Jr. with an English accent. He was certainly not Sherlock Holmes. Sure, the character as scripted is obsessive, and seemingly oblivious to regular emotions; he has his violin, his pipe, his penchant for disguises, he’s an excellent fighter and swordsman, knowledge of sciences, his addictions (although I noticed that there were zero references to cocaine, no doubt to attract the 11-year-olds and their parents…), etc., but Downey just plays him as a modern anti-hero, with heavily moussed hair – I never got the sense from him that this was a character who existed in the late 1800s. I never got the sense that this was an eccentric genius – okay, I’ll give him eccentric, but the level of deductive reasoning on display here was just a few steps beyond the Scooby-Doo clues solved by Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code.

The plot was all rather ho-hum, appropriately macabre, but uneven and shocking only in its predictability, with some completely unnecessary flashback sequences, and a franchise-building climax. I think I would have appreciated an overly complicated plot rather than one that had no real mystery behind it whatsoever. Sure, I enjoyed some of the blockbuster conceits – the action scenes were generally well made, thankfully lacking the over-exuberant editing and shaky-cam-ness that seems to dominate big-budget action movies these days.  Jude Law’s Watson was fine, and he and Downy Jr. share some appealing onscreen banter. And I think Ritchie’s direction is competent, the CG isn’t used to excess, and the greyness and overall sourness of London is appropriate, although I could definitely do without the crows swooping into every other shot.

It’s funny that in one sense the movie breaks from the traditional way Holmes has appeared in film and television, yet in another it just falls into all of the trappings of a typical Hollywood adventure flick. Breaking Holmesian clichés only to become even more clichéd…there’s a thesis hidden in there somewhere, if only we had a real detective to suss it out.

Of course I hate to use the ‘deviates too much from the original’ argument, and in this case I’m not saying you can’t do a Holmes movie like a big-budget action/adventure, I’m just saying why bother using the Holmes character in the first place if all you’re going to do is pick and choose bits of his personality that you like, and discard the ones that you don’t want? I know, I know, the Holmes brand will sell more than an original character nobody has ever heard of. So, sadly, we’re left with a cartoon Holmes, a studio Sherlock, complete with an ass-kicking Watson, a femme fatale straight out of a film noir.

Potential? Loads. Too many spoons in the pot? Probably. Result? Elementary, my dear fellows, way too elementary…
llewopemearg

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, April 7, 2010 4:19 pm

    And yes, I realize this movie came out over 3 months ago, but this is actually the first movie I seen in over 3 months, so for me, it’s like a new release.

  2. Friday, April 9, 2010 2:42 am

    Just watched this and I completely agree — while some things about it were good, and I also really like RDJr in general, here he was just completely miscast. Actually, I thought most of the major characters were miscast — I didn’t like Jude Law as Watson (does Law really look like a guy who spent time in a late 19th c. British army in Afghanistan?); Rachel McAdams was an awful choice as Irene Adler, and her and RDJr had zero chemistry; Lestrade was blah; and, as you mentioned, RDJr himself as Holmes just doesn’t work.

    So that also means I’m not really psyched for the apparent sequel either.

  3. Tuesday, June 29, 2010 2:27 am

    You might be interested to know that the Bootmaker’s of Toronto (http://www.sherlockian.net/bootmakers) have given the film their stamp of approval, and the past president, over a handful of sherries, confided that Richie towed the line swimmingly in keeping with the advice of experts on the matter.

    I’ll confess it leaned rather heavily on the popcorn, but then who the fuck are we? James Lipton?

  4. Tuesday, June 29, 2010 12:59 pm

    Who the fuck are we? Who the fuck are you? Jeremy BEAL?

    What the crap is going on here?

    • Wednesday, June 30, 2010 12:08 am

      • Wednesday, June 30, 2010 9:10 am

        Adam: Jeremy, this is Man-At-Arms.
        Jeremy: Don’t you have a real name?
        Man-At-Arms: My friends call me Duncan.
        Jeremy: That’s not much better.

        Awesome.

      • Wednesday, June 30, 2010 12:58 pm

        Prince Adam had a cousin named Jeremy?

        Could it be? Maybe I really am He-Man?

  5. Wednesday, June 30, 2010 2:43 am

    Dear sweet lord jesus.

    I need to get high, and fast.

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