Saturday, 13 February 2010

Review: Sherlock Holmes

It's been a while since I felt compelled to write a review of something, so it seems a little odd that the inspiration should have been a disappointment. Speaking of which, those of you who dislike 'the book was so much better' reviews, look away now. Though I hope to remain above such a simplistic analysis.

Guy Ritchie's attempt to capture the excitement, adventure and subtle homoeroticism on Conan Doyle's marvellously dark and deadpan detective has somehow left us with something like an over-risen cupcake. It stretches too far, the top explodes, and by the time you've taken them out of the oven all you're left with is a structurally catastrophic mess with a hole in the middle you could drive a ten-tonne truck through, only edible due to the compulsive quantities of sugar contained therein.

What I really don't understand about adaptations like this (and there are many of them), is that the original material is so good one really wonders where you could possibly go wrong. Yet somehow - perhaps in the assumption that modern audiences lack the sophistication to appreciate the nuances of immaculately constructed dialogue and a watertight storyline - somehow, so many of our classic works of fiction are cinematically short-changed. This adaptation plays somehow like Sherlock Holmes as written by Chuck Palahniuk on a bad day. Robert Downey Jnr, much as I normally enjoy spending two hours admiring his visage, is not only no Holmes (he's American, for goodness sake!) but brings an extremely irritating, almost 'madcap' quality to the detective that grates the whole way through. Almost as excruciating as Johnny Depp's psychotic Willy Wonka. The frisson between him and the also totally miscast Jude Law as Dr Watson, is transformed into some sickeningly teenage 'bromance' as I believe it's termed. Whilst I did notice snippets of original text slipped in at inappropriate junctures - the set piece about the pocket watch, for example, was paraphrased from one of the books - much of the dialogue lacked the arch precision that makes Conan Doyle's stories so enjoyable to read. The action scenes were lengthy, pointless and distracting, verging on the slapstick; Holmes' periods of isolation and despair were played as comedy; and, most disappointing, there was not even a hint of the classic interplay between the two central characters. Not one single raised eyebrow, not one outburst of 'But my dear Holmes! That's incredible! How on earth could you deduce all that from this one tiny piece of evidence!'. I've made this up, but there's a lot of that sort of thing. I believe Watson is famous for such expostulations. Or he was, at any rate.

No. The campness was all there. And here it is, misinterpreted and misplayed, thrown in for kicks but missing the point altogether. What really disappoints me about this sort of thing, though, is not so much that they've made a slightly sub-standard film out of one of the canons of English Literature - it's not even that a generation of kids will thinks that this is what Sherlock Holmes is all about, a bareknuckle underdog with a neurotic demeanour and a tendency to wind up in destructive Indiana Jones-esque brawls. (And I can see how, if you have no prior experience of Holmes and Watson, that it is probably entertaining enough to satisfy.) It's that it could have been a really great film. Wasted potential is the key here. The styling is all right - the brilliant steampunked design, the cinematography, the costumes - Ritchie certainly cracked the look of the thing. And that might fool a lot of people. But not me. Sorry, Guy.

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