Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES may be one of the few films to contain a spelling mistake in its title shot — not counting deliberate mistakes like BIUTIFUL or PET SEMATARY.
The title manifests itself from a news headline, but we can still read the lettering around it — SHERLOCK HOLMES AIDES POLICE. Maybe Ritchie thinks that an extra E will give things an Olde Worlde quality. He should’ve called his film SHERLOCKE HOLMESE. Or maybe he was terrified of having the word AIDS anywhere near his title. Can I suggest a few synonyms, such as HELPS or ASSISTS?
I’m stunned to think of how many hands and eyes this sequence must have passed through without, apparently, anybody taking any interest in it. A later newspaper blunder, showing a photo of Holmes on a newspaper in a period when newspapers could not print photos, is piddling compared to this.
The film itself? About what you’d expect from a movie that dumbs down Holmes to make a kick-boxing action hero out of him. Downey, with a rather uneven Noel Coward impersonation, is amusing. Jude Law plays Watson as a cockney. Mark Strong is authoritative as a baddie, Rachel McAdams is, as ever, like a thin translucent film dropping before your eyes and obscuring your view of the production design. She uses her eyes very well, in one shot: so there’s hope. Elsewhere, she extends the corners of her mouth as if trying to make them meet at the back of her neck, detaching her cranium. Her character is a sufficiently obscure Holmesian figure to make one suspect that one of the huddle of writers actually read some Doyle, but there’s always Wikipedia, so probably not.
The weirdest directorial touch concerns the early fight scenes — Ritchie, always a fan of messing with camera speeds, presents these partly in ultra slo-mo, with a Holmes VO that shows him analysing each punch and assessing the strategic damage it will inflict. Ritchie uses CGI to enhance the impact of each wallop, so we get rippling flesh effects impossible to achieve normally without actually injuring an actor. It’s reasonably impressive, and does at least attempt to address the mismatch between Holmes’s famed intellectual prowess and his status in this movie as an action hero. But after showing this, Ritchie then proceeds to show the entire fight AGAIN, at normal speed, without the VO. How he could ever have imagined this would be anything other than ludicrously redundant is impossible to conceive.
Bernard Hill turns up as a river rat, and looks like he might be about to say something entertaining, but nobody’s thought to write anything.
Me: “It’s a long way down from Captain of the Titanic.”
Fiona: “Wasn’t he in LORD OF THE RINGS too?”
Me: “Yes. As a king. And look at him now.”
Also letting herself go is Bronagh Gallagher, dragged up as a gypsy fortune teller with a small moustache. Good to see her. I’ve liked her ever since THE COMMITMENTS, and always found her oddly attractive, even though her head is the shape of a claw hammer.
Two things I have to say in the name of fairness: the production design (Sarah Greenwood), costumes (Jenny Beavan) and cinematography (Philippe Rousellot) are fabulous, conjuring a detailed, idiosyncratic, dramatic and grungy Victorian London. And Ritchie reportedly won the respect of the whole crew by shepherding the production through while amid a veritable media shitstorm over his divorce from some singer. OK, three things: he shoots action sequences that you can actually follow.
Unfortunately, the climax involves everybody climbing to the top of the Tower Bridge (under construction) for no reason, and concludes by having all the major resolutions occur by coincidence: falling objects defeat bad guys, fortuitous ledges save falling heroines… Might as well just have God swing down on a rope and shove a lightning bolt through the villain. A shame, because star charisma, busy plotting, cool design and frenetic punching might otherwise have seen the movie through, on its own dumbe termes.