In 2009. I trepidatiously entered the local cinema to see the latest incarnation of my favorite literary character- Sherlock Holmes. I have seen Basil Rathbone play Holmes, and my personal (and everyone’s) favorite Jeremy Brett play Holmes.
Brett played the “Classic” Holmes that we hear in our heads when reading the stories. very British, upper class, well put together. What Robert Downey Jr did was actually a bit more honest in my opinion. When Holmes was between cases, he was intolerable, and often descended into cocaine fueled periods of malaise. When off the case, he would liberally use cocaine to speed up his genius to keep his mind occupied. The thing about drug addicts- they are not pretty, and tend to smell pretty bad.
While a bit “amped up”, RDJ’s Holmes displays all you would expect of a drug addled GENIUS. His humor and amazing chemistry with Jude Law (who is becoming the definitive Dr Watson) makes these films something special.
In the first film, there was a shadowy figure manipulating all the events facing Holmes. He is of course the legendary James Moriarty- arch Nemesis of Sherlock Holmes. Their story together- The Final Problem shocked me as a boy. Moriarty is easily the greatest villain ever committed to paper. He is, in every way, the equal of our hero, and it was scary to see Holmes face him.The ending was impossible for an 11 year old to fathom… The hero of these tales, who outsmarts everyone, dies at Reichenbach Falls in a battle to the death with Moriarty. I had this thing going where I would read the Sherlock Holmes stories during the week after the next episode aired on PBS. When I saw that particular episode of the Brett Series (which I knew was at the end of the book I owned) I was horrified. I tried to read Hound of the Baskervilles after this, but kept putting it off. I was dumbstruck that my hero had died. I avoided everything Holmes for over a year.
Now, many of you have read the stories and know damn well that Holmes survives the battle and has many more adventures with Dr Watson…but I was a kid, and there was no internet in those days of the late 80’s early 90’s. I only had Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes with Hound of the Baskervilles…Thats it. I was missing all the later stories. What is worse is that the following episodes of the series were not being broadcast at that time! The next week the series repeated to the first episode. I was heartbroken, and that was the end of Holmes for me. Little did I know that I was experiencing the exact same emotions that readers in 1893 experienced, only a century or so late!
What brought me back to Holmes was that the episodes were showing on television in a mini-marathon every night of the week on PBS. I had made my peace with Sherlock’s end, and watched the series every night. I viewed the final problem once again…and it was immediately followed by The Adventure of the empty house… what was this? Holmes Lives?! I hounded my mother and she took me out to find the next book in the series. Thus, my fascination continued and I ended up reading all of Doyle’s Holmes work, as well as a few later tales by other authors (Holmes in WW1? an 89 year old beekeeper during WW2?!!)
Now, it is 2011, and A game of Shadows is released. This film is not heavy on clues or deduction for the audience. This, like the first, is us living in Holmes’ world. The film loves to slow down to show us how he processes the world. It is a film that shows Holmes at his best, facing his equal. There is little for us to figure out, we are along for the ride- to see the evil genius of Moriarty, and Holmes’ quest to outsmart his equal. Jared Harris nearly steals this movie from Downey Jr. His Moriarty is terrifically sadistic, but always reasonably so. While Holmes is compelled to see justice done, Moriarty is compelled to cheat, steal, and attain power- all while using similar methods and thought patterns as Holmes. The final showdown of the film- at Reichenbach falls (gasp!…spoilers- yes, they go there with this story) was exquisitely done.
People are going to complain, they are going to rail against the modern bastardization of Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterpiece. There is nothing that can be done to stop them. I simply feel that they are wrong. Those that would pass over this movie over the aesthetics of Guy RItchie’s Holmes universe is doing themselves a huge disservice. Check it out- well worth your time.