Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

2009, PG-13, 128 min. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Fox, Hans Matheson, Geraldine James.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 25, 2009

When Edgar Allan Poe invented the literary detective genre in 1841 via a short story showcasing the adventures of ur-shamus C. Auguste Dupin, little did he know that his clever little Parisian "ratiocinator" would lead directly to the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "consulting detective" Sherlock Holmes some 46 years later. The fictional Holmes first arrived at the scene of the crime exactly one year prior to the emergence of the very real Jack the Ripper. Fittingly, both fictional man and factual monster appeared in their own variations in A Study in Scarlet, and both turned out to be equally adept at selling periodicals while gaining permanent positions in popular culture. Over the years, Holmes – obsessive, possibly bipolar, and never less than a gentleman, even while prone to firing off guns and mainlining "medicinal" cocaine in the flat he shared with his friend and chronicler Dr. Watson – has been a cinematic staple. The character has been assayed by a veritable rogues’ gallery of actors including the legendary (and stodgy) Basil Rathbone, Nicol Williamson (in 1976's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which notably featured a young Robert Duvall as Dr. Watson), Robert Stephens (in Billy Wilder's vaguely homoerotic The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), and Christopher Plummer (in the excellent Holmes/Ripper face-off Murder by Decree, helmed by Bob Clark, of A Christmas Story). Now Guy Ritchie has reinvented the chilly, brainiac character as a tortured genius, ladies' man (sort of), and occasional backroom brawler. As played by Downey Jr. (an inspired casting choice that works in the film's favor), this incarnation is a post-millennial man of action, spurred on by a woman of equal action: his former love, Irene Adler (McAdams, looking suitably flouncy-tough as per Ritchie's ongoing worldview), who engages his services to locate a missing midget. With Watson (Law, another spot-on bit of casting) at his side, Holmes uncovers a satanic plot that takes him from the lowliest subterranean hellholes to the (literally) highest levels of Parliament. His quarry here is one Lord Blackwood (a stern, unflappable Strong), a sort of Victorian terrorist with Bond-villain dreams. The game is afoot and Ritchie, who overdosed on his own testosterone with last year's riotously dull RocknRolla, manages to mostly restrain his more florid directorial flourishes while creating a CGI London so benighted and soot-heavy you can practically smell it. This is Downey Jr.'s film all the way, and while literary traditionalists and Baker Street Irregulars (of which I am one) may find this Holmes’ penchant for face-crunching fisticuffs and back-alley chases a sad sop to the action-jaded audiences of the 21st century, the actor's more masculine interpretation of the character is never anything less than startling, fresh, and altogether entertaining. Here's hoping that younger members of the audience will seek out Conan Doyle's original stories to further explore Holmes' official amanuensis, Dr. John Watson, whose brilliant case studies regarding his friend, roommate, and fellow rationalist are the stuff dreams are made of.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Sherlock Holmes
Holmes for the Holiday
Holmes for the Holidays
Spend the yuletide at 221-B Baker Street, where the library is stocked with new books about Sherlock

Robert Faires, Dec. 25, 2015

Parade of Holmes
Parade of Holmes
Our picks for great adventures of the Great Detective that Arthur Conan Doyle didn't write

Dec. 25, 2015

More Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Chronicles
Sherlock Chronicles
A look behind the scenes of the BBC series Sherlock is informative, if not intimate

Rosalind Faires, Dec. 25, 2015

The Sherlock Holmes Book
The Sherlock Holmes Book
This encyclopedic overview of all things Holmesian will add a literary elegance to your coffee table

Wayne Alan Brenner, Dec. 25, 2015

More Guy Ritchie Films
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
A commando unit takes on the Nazis in this hyperviolent Guy Ritchie action-comedy

Kimberley Jones, April 19, 2024

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant
War flick about the US exit from Afghanistan sabotaged by a weak script

Dex Wesley Parra, April 21, 2023

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Fox, Hans Matheson, Geraldine James

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle