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Originally published December 24, 2009 at 12:52 AM | Page modified December 24, 2009 at 11:37 AM

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Movie review

'Sherlock Holmes': A buddy action movie with a clue

A review of "Sherlock Holmes," an unlikely, messy and thoroughly enjoyable buddy movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Sherlock Holmes,' with Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly. Directed by Guy Ritchie, from a screenplay by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg. 119 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material. Several theaters.

Movie review 3 stars

Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" by all rights should be kind of a mess, and often it is. Ritchie ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Snatch") specializes in fast-moving, violent underworld gangster films, and he hasn't traded his usual style for Victorian London as much as transported Victorian London into it. So, much of this movie zips on by in a blur of buff muscles, slo-mo fistfights, lightning-fast edits, elaborate stunts and a handcuffed-to-a-bed Robert Downey Jr. wearing only a small throw pillow.

In other words, not your grandparents' Sherlock Holmes, or even your cousin's for that matter. But put away your period-movie expectations and you just might have a lot of fun. What makes this movie work is actually something very old-fashioned: movie-star chemistry.

Downey, as he's reminded us in recent years ("The Soloist," "Iron Man," "Zodiac" and an unforgettable 45 seconds or so in "Lucky You"), is perhaps the most vivid actor working in movies, so it's no surprise that his Holmes is a kick. Wearing a wonderfully tattered once-red dressing gown (it looks like it's survived several wars and more than a few cats), he stalks around his dusty Baker Street lair, pondering clues and tossing off ripostes.

Holmes here, as created by a team of screenwriters though based on the Arthur Conan Doyle character, is a sort of intellectual super-

hero who can bash people's faces in even as he outwits them, and Downey throws himself into the role with devil-may-care glee and note-perfect comic timing. In another time, a cop tells Holmes, "you might have made an excellent criminal." The Master of Deduction doesn't miss a beat: "And you," he says, "would be an excellent policeman."

Downey's default Holmes expression of faint amusement contrasts nicely with that of Jude Law as faithful sidekick Watson: faint worry, as well he might. The talented Law, whose leading-man star has faded of late, slips wonderfully into the role of second banana; he and Downey establish a nice little vaudeville rhythm to their dialogue. Watson is a tough guy, too (quite a departure from the books), but isn't above getting huffy about a borrowed waistcoat.

The crime, which involves a serial killer and a dead man who might not be dead, moves quickly and with plenty of noise, with the women in the movie both seemingly afterthoughts. Kelly Reilly, as Watson's beloved Mary, looks too contemporary and seems uncomfortable; Rachel McAdams as Holmes' onetime paramour Irene Adler does well enough, and looks ravishing in period costumes, but you can't help wondering what a wittier actress might have made of the role.

No, this movie is about the two guys on the poster and nothing else (though a much-abused bulldog gets some good moments), but they deliver, with the sparkle in Downey's eye alone making "Sherlock Holmes" brighter than many movies this season. "There's nothing more elusive," says Holmes, happily in chase, "than an obvious fact."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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