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Sherlock Holmes A Winner Due to Downey

Sherlock Holmes
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg based on a story by Johnson and Lionel Wigram based on characters by Arthur Conan Doyle
Warner Bros., 2009

Good mysteries are difficult to find these days.  The genre has been subverted from its pure form and we rarely see films that are just mysteries.  Most of them are thrillers with a mystery at its core, but we don’t see those Agatha Christie type of mysteries where the detective (or someone playing detective) is the protagonist and solving the case revolves around that person’s intuition and ability to notice the slightest of details.  The last real mystery I saw was Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, a film that grew on me after my initial viewing, and that was back in 2001.  You could make a case for The Prestige and The Illusionist from 2006, but those wouldn’t fit the definition I’m providing here.

I’m not sure what happened to the mystery genre.  Perhaps it got old-fashioned.  There is no action usually other than the asking of questions.  In the age of CSI, where the science of crime-solving has become more interesting than trying to get witnesses, testimony, and alibis straight, maybe listening to stories and assessing the situation got to be tiresome.  Sherlock Holmes is not a good example of a straight-up mystery, but it’s at least a start.  It has enough elements that perhaps we’ll see more in the future should this be a hit.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays the detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle, and he is joined by his friend and partner Dr. John Watson (Jude Law).  In the beginning of the film he is foiling the attempt by a Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) to sacrifice a girl using black magic.  Blackwood is sentenced to death, but before being sent to the gallows tells Holmes that three more will die and there’s nothing he can do about it.  Cue the hanging of Blackwood, a confirmation of death by Watson, and then…stories that Blackwood has risen from the dead.

Maybe it’s Blackwood, maybe it’s someone playing like Blackwood.  Or maybe we have a twin brother situation.  Who knows?  Anyway, Blackwood’s interests lie in a secret order with representatives in Parliament, and a number of people who were helping him with scientific experiments.  Some of these people are showing up dead.  To confuse matters, Holmes is getting visits from hot thief Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who has foiled Holmes a couple of times in the past, mostly because, well, she’s hot.  She’s working for someone who is never revealed, and he wants her to use Holmes to get to some of the technology that is being created for Blackwood.  This is the thread of what will be a sequel should this movie go over well.

Downey, Jr., as always, is a treat.  His Holmes can think several steps ahead and glean information from the slightest of details.  It’s because of him the movie overall stays afloat, because the mystery isn’t too engrossing overall.  We’ve seen enough over the years to know how Blackwood is able to rise from the dead, and how he’s using this black magic of his.  In fact, if Blackwood’s motives weren’t so grand, and the movie could have been a simple murder mystery, there is a scene in this movie that could have served as either an ultimate or penultimate moment that is buried in the middle here where Holmes derives Blackwood’s parentage just by looking at another character.  That could have been a great reveal towards the end of the story, but this is treated as only a slight development.

I’m looking at it as a good start, with the movie being worth it for it’s top-billed star.

Next: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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