Sunday, December 27, 2009

Elementary? Hardly!

Made a pilgrimage to Launceston today to take in the new Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes flick, with Robert Downey Jr in the title role, and Jude Law playing Watson.

The journey was not without mishap. I phoned the Friendly Neighbour People to see if they wanted to send a couple of their kids with me and the boys - and instead, we wound up travelling in their car, with five of them. My two lads performed brilliantly. We all climbed out into the car park in Launceston, and Elder Son promptly turned green and puked all over the tarmac. Younger Son poked his nose around the rear of the car, caught sight of Elder Son's stage-show, and immediately hurled his own breakfast in sympathy.

I'm afraid I wasn't very supportive. I was too busy giggling, pointing, and trying to get Friendly Neighbour Dad Tony to stop making comments designed to set off two little chunderbuckets all over again.

They paused for a breather. I took 'em to a sammidge shop, put some food and drink into 'em, and it was okay after that.

The verdict on the movie?

Really good, yeah. But one of those films where they never really had any chance of living up to how awesome you hoped it would be.

What do I mean? Well -- it was a Guy Ritchie flick about the London underworld and crime and stuff. Which is what Guy Ritchie does best of all. And it had Robert Downey Jr (who is one of the best performers of his generation, in my opinion) playing one of my all-time favourite characters. Sherlock Holmes has been part of my life since I was maybe four years old.

There was really no way they could have created a film awesome enough to fulfill my hopes.

But they tried pretty damned hard.

Guy Ritchie's visuals were a treat. The colour palette was used with beautiful, understated, gritty blue-grey elegance that gave the whole film real atmosphere. The music was by Hans Zimmer, who did the rich, lush score for the three Pirates of the Caribbean flicks - except this time he kept it sparse, and thematic, and it was excellent. The villains were suitably villainous. The action was top-notch, with really solid, well-crafted fight scenes. The pacing was really good.

And the acting?

Well, Jude Law has now become THE Dr Watson. No more Nigel Bruce bumbling here: Law's Watson is tough, competent, smart, and very nicely torn between his off-beat relationship with his best friend, and his wife-to-be. In a wonderful piece of screenwriting and directing, the film enters the Holmes/Watson partnership at just the time when Watson is moving on with his life - getting out of 221B, setting up in his own private practise, and preparing to get married. The whole thing between Holmes and Watson reverberates around this separation. We get to see the pair of them as long-term buddies, complete with the jokes and the habits and the backstory, and the feeling of trust and affection between them comes through very strongly.

To be honest, for me the least effective part of the film was RDJr as Holmes.

I'm not referring to the director and scriptwriters' re-invention of the screen Holmes as an action hero, master of fisticuffs, eccentric and abrasive and socially impossible. All those things are on the page in Arthur Conan Doyle's books, and frankly, they've been missing from the screen versions of Holmes for far too long. Even as the new Jude Law Watson is much closer to ACD's original character than the perpetually bumbling sidekick of so many films and TV shows, the Holmes given to RDJr is a lot more like the Holmes I knew and loved from the books.

No - for me, the trouble lay in RDJr. For my money, he laid on the arch humour just a little too thick, played it for laughs just a little too obviously, couldn't quite understate the role effectively enough. This isn't the Holmes it could have been: this is Tony Stark (hard-drinking genius with a dark side) shoe-horned into Sherlock Holmes' Victorian-era wardrobe.

Having said that -- well, I'm being nit-picky. And if I hadn't seen RDJr doing Tony Stark, I probably would have been a lot more forgiving. But I did, and once the connection was made, I couldn't shake it.

Overall? Definitely worth seeing, and very enjoyable. The plot's complicated and appropriately over-the-top, and there are a few scenes that don't quite make sense -- but it moves along nicely, and the visuals are brilliant, and the action and fight scenes are really well done. A very strong thread of humour surfaces often enough that I giggled a lot more often than I do at most comedies, and the strength of the Holmes/Watson dyad laid out by these two very fine actors has me already anticipating the sequel.

So: gtfo and SEE the thing. Several times, so they make enough money to hire everybody back for the next movie.