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“Mother Hen”

We started a new year of glorious movie-going with Sherlock Holmes. It was better than I expected, but it did not rise to brilliance.

The raw material is pretty raw. Checking — yeah, fairly inexperienced screenwriters who haven’t written anything great; I don’t imagine the script gave anyone a lot to work with. I give the writers credit for knowing their Alan Moore, though. (Blackwood is Gull. Ritualistic killing of women in order to bring about a future in his own image? Been there, read that.) Despite stealing from the best, though, the story was simple and uninspired.

Guy Ritchie is Guy Ritchie. Things explode. On the whole it was a touch more subtle than anything else he’s ever done, which may or may not have been due to the acting. I found his camera work on the frenetic side, and I’m usually highly tolerant of quick cuts. It wasn’t a work of great craft, really. The epitome of this would be the Holmesian fighting style.

There’s a fun bit in the first five minutes where Holmes pauses for a split second, maps the fight out in his brain based on his observations of the target, and then executes. It occurs to me tangentially that perhaps the writers know their Grant Morrison JLA as well. Shades of Prometheus? I may be overanalyzing. In any case, Ritchie gives us the sequence twice: once as imagined, once as enacted. It ought to be great, but it isn’t, perhaps because there’s never any payoff. It’s just a thing, and it’s only used in the trivial unimportant fights. You’d expect him to use it and fail to demonstrate how scary an opponent is, or at least to use it, but nope. It vanishes a third of the way through the movie, never to be seen again.

So obviously and in retrospect unsurprisingly, it’s up to Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. to elevate the thing. Which of course they do. Downey’s Holmes hooked me in the sequence where his need to show off undercuts his friendship, because it’s played for laughs — ha ha, look at Holmes get pissed off and incisive — until he’s actually wrong about a key point. Which leads to bitterness. Which transitions directly into a sequence of self-destructive Holmes. Which is perfect.

I loved this vision of the characters. Holmes is a dangerous, angry, haunted man. Watson is compelled by his friend’s brilliance, and is also pretty dangerous. Ex-army, so he should be. Great work from both actors.

The women have much more thankless tasks. Kelly Reilly’s Mary is surprisingly strong, and is one of I think two characters in the film who ever get the best of Holmes. I think this is absolutely necessary in order to maintain the Holmes/Watson/Mary love triangle, but still, it’s a good bit. In fact, I think she has the edge on him twice. Still and all, it’s a very slight role.

Alas, Rachel McAdams is stuck with the “major” female part, in which Irene Adler is relegated to a helpless pawn. For a master criminal, an awful lot of people out-think her, and she needs rather a lot of saving. I was disappointed.

One line review: rompity romp romp romp. I liked it.

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