Betsy Speicher

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Rate this movie   13 votes

  1. 1. Artistic Merit

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  2. 2. Sense of Life or Personal Value

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12 posts in this topic

********SPOILER WARNING**********

I feel I need to begin by saying something about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

First, Sherlock Holmes was never great literature; they were serial pulp stories for the 19th century. Purists who worry about this movie corrupting a great work of art….really shouldn’t. Second, the Sherlock stories weren’t actually very good mysteries (they were detective novels, there’s a subtle difference); the plots consisted of learning the mystery, and then marveling at Holmes through Watson’s eyes as he solves the case; the audience is usually given no chance to follow the unfolding of the mystery itself, and many times the action was off-screen.

The stories almost always fixated on Sherlock Holmes the person - his methods, his personality, his behavior - more then anything else. This is something the movie gets very, very right. Which brings me to my third point: much of what Americans think of Sherlock Holmes –the character – is wrong.

I think it comes from the misunderstandings about British dialoge, or perhaps years of misuse has created a new story. Holmes was not a perfect British gentleman; yes, he was brilliant; but also self-destructive, eccentric, unintentionally rude, and at times single-minded to the point where it became unhealthy.

This is also something the movie got right. In fact, I was surprised how accurately the movie was to the original source material (considering the movie is based on a comic book.) Direct bits of dialoge from the books make it into the movie, they did Watsons’s character justice, you have Holmes mastery at disguise, his substance abuse and obsessions, even “The Women” makes an appearance.

Granted, everything is exaggerated, mixed around, and not everything works, but its there.

And the movie is smart; at least, much smarter then I expected it to be. A couple tedious action scenes aside, Holmes’ brilliance is really on display here. In fact, even when Holmes is fist fighting, we see his mind at work.

This movie is, at times, great fun; but that doesn’t mean its perfect.

Plot holes abound, which in a detective story, can be crippling; the actions of some of the villains simply don’t make sense. Evil plots are overly elaborate and at times convoluted.

A secondary plot, the one with “the Women” (Rachael McAdams) serves no purpose in the overall story and is used merely to set up a possible sequel (in which I assume a certain infamous professor will be involved.)

The casting is suburb; Robert Downey Jr. is a joy to watch whenever he’s on screen; Jude Law is never a greedy actor, and lets Downey play. Their dialogue is fantastic, the act together as if they have known each other for years. All villains and secondary characters are perfect. The only complaint is the lack of any interesting female characters. Rachael McAdams does what she can with the role, but a bundle of female-character clichés (playful but world-wearied, intelligent but at times foolish, loving but backstabbing) keep her from being interesting. There’s almost nothing I can say about Watson’s bride-to-be, which is saying a lot (this just reinforces my suspicion that modern Hollywood has no clue how to write for woman.)

And while I’m nitpicking: I’ll mention the movies occasionally poor pacing, how it undercut itself with bits of silliness, how some of the action was pointless and boring (a band-saw, “the women”, and dead pigs), how it sometimes abused its dramatic license, and mostly: its general predictability.

But like the original stories, this movie comes down to the character of Sherlock Holmes, and that’s where the movie succeeds. The character is brilliant, even if the movie doesn’t completely match. How he approaches a problem with the utmost of rationality should be applauded and enjoyed. The plot plays out like a reverse of Indiana Jones, where a rational and logical man comes in contact with the supernatural,

except this time, the rational and the logical win.

Never for an instant does Holmes think the problem doesn’t have a rational answer. One of my favorite quotes from the character actually makes it in the movie: “you must be careful, or you will find yourself changing facts to fit theories rather then theories to fit facts.”

In the end: the movie takes you to an England that never was (almost steampunk); where a bromance is more interesting then evil cults; where the smartest characters are the strongest; and where a man could where a hat, shawl, and carry a cane without getting laughed at. Overall, I had a fun Saturday night at the movies, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again; which is the best endorsement I could give this film.

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Ok, my very broad evaluation is that it was a positive film. Holmes is a detective rooted in evidence, whose evaluations are not swayed by emotion or faith. He goes where the facts lead him, and never jumps ahead of what he knows. He is also eccentric to the point of being self-destructive, saved only by the thrill of a good mystery to solve, which makes him both sympathetic and amusing. Robert Downey Jr. plays the part wonderfully.

 

That said, I do have specific observations, and things I didn’t care for. The only Sherlock Holmes book I read was Hound of the Baskervilles, so I can’t speak much about the characterization, except that the relationship between Holmes and Watson was very different. In the book, I would say Watson is Holmes’ companion and friend who is used to gather information, run errands and to bounce ideas off of. Watson worships Holmes’ genius and forgives all the bad habits for the marvels of working with him. And while he is intelligent and perceptive, he is not at all in Holmes’ caliber where detective work is concerned. In the movie, though, their relationship is explicitly brotherly, and they act almost like real siblings at times. Also, Watson in the movie has an intelligence that is much closer to Holmes than in the book, which makes their professional relationship more like an equal partnership. I suppose that is a better way to go when you get Jude Law for the part, though. And even if I thought it was a departure from the relationship I expected, I did enjoy it.

 

I thought at times that the writers were trying too hard to make Holmes seem like a superman genius. Mainly my beef is with the fighting. Making him a clever fighter is one thing, since I would expect him to be more resourceful than the brute criminals; but holy cow the guy was ridiculous to the point of making himself a caricature. I loved the silliness of the eccentricities of Holmes, but thought the fight scenes were taking it too far.

 

The story itself I thought was convoluted and not very good. I would have much preferred a 90 minute, tighter plot with fewer villains. And because Holmes plays everything close to the chest, we don’t really know what’s going on for two hours. The characters become the foreground entertainment, with the mystery an arbitrary background context for bringing them together. Also I have to say that the main villain seemed like something out of The DiVinci Code plopped into the Sherlock Holmes universe. But not being an expert on that universe, I could be wrong. I just wish they had tried to create a good crime that didn’t have to be apocalyptically bad in scope to be interesting.

 

So basically, the character was great and I really enjoyed Robert Downey Jr, but the story was a disappointment.

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We are going to wait for it to come out on DVD, rather than spend the money on the theater, because the trailers we saw suggested a less than satisfactory experience.

That said, I do agree that Sherlock Holmes is not understood as intended. I am not a big Holmes fan, never wrote to 6B Baker Street to get a reply, etc., etc., but I did read several of these stories several years ago.

First, Holmes is mischaracterized as a great logician. He is, indeed, logical, but his method is based on empirical evidence, not abstract thinking. When the stories begin Holmes has memorized an inventory of tobacco ashes. That said, the complete truth is that Holmes is not "an empiriicist" or "a rationalist" but truly an objectivist (lowercase o). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a medical doctor. That is why the narrator is Watson. Holmes displays both conditions of the search for truth. We see him investigating a crime scene with a magnifying class. Watson says that Holmes was casting about the floor like a bloodhound. We also see Holmes eschewing food lest it slow his brain, smoking strong tobacco, and sitting in his chair thinking far into the night.

I never found him "ungentlemanly" in the broader sense, but I agree, that he was not aristocratic and was clearly his own man in a class-based society. That is easy to interpret as the product of the author's life. Doyle and Holmes have both been analyzed and interpreted over past 100 years. Make of them as you will. Note that the works are still held in copyright by "the estate." The story is more convoluted than anything Sherlock Holmes had to deal with. http://www.sherlockholmesonline.org/

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I haven't read the novels nor the short stories but the movie is definitely entertaining. Superb acting of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. I highly recommend it!

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I almost didn't see the movie because the trailers portrayed Holmes as an action hero. To the contrary, the movie itself presented him as an integrated thinker and man of action. The action scenes could mostly be removed from the movie and the plot wouldn't be affected. Still, they are fun to watch. I particularly like the way the boxing scene was directed; I don't recall fight scenes laid out that way before.

Yes, his thinking can be rationalistic, but that's the character's tradition: he jumps to conclusions when the facts actually imply multiple possibilities. One woman actually calls him on it and shows him the error of this thinking.

It's actually a good mystery and thriller wrapped in a modern-day package. Robert Downey Jr. does a fun job as Holmes, giving him a new spin the way Johnny Depp did pirates a few years back. This isn't your father's Holmes.

The plot goes through several twists and I found myself fully engaged in the movie; that hasn't happened in a while. If anything, the unraveling of clues is hard to follow at times, but they make sense in the end.

Philosophically, there's not much to write about. It's a fairly straight-ahead mystery. There're some nice lines at key points about such things as connecting theory and facts, but the point comes out muddled. (These lines really aren't that essential to the story, so it wouldn't matter much whether they were really good, really bad, or just typical.)

All in all, a terrific surprise; good acting, story, and movie-making.

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Yes, his thinking can be rationalistic, but that's the character's tradition: he jumps to conclusions when the facts actually imply multiple possibilities. One woman actually calls him on it and shows him the error of this thinking.

That's an interesting thing for the film to imply. The core theme in the books, and indeed what Holmes himself admits is his USP over Scotland Yard, is that "I adapt my theory to the facts, not the facts to my theory" - this quote comes in almost half the stories, if I recall well.

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Yes, his thinking can be rationalistic, but that's the character's tradition: he jumps to conclusions when the facts actually imply multiple possibilities. One woman actually calls him on it and shows him the error of this thinking.

I thought this had to do with his view of women omitting a likely explanation rather than consciously jumping to conclusions. But then I admit I didn't try to follow all of his arguments, only the characterization.

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This was a lot of fun, and I am grateful to all the Objectivists who recommended it here and on Facebook. It took the bitter taste of Avatar out of my mouth.

We had seen Guy Ritchie's RocknRolla over Christmas and enjoyed it. Mark Strong (Body of Lies, RocknRolla) continues to impress; he's just getting started, in my opinion. Robert Downey Jr. was very very good, and Jude Law rose ably to the challenge.

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I just saw it and I'll recommend it as well. The best things about it are the acting (Downey Jr. and Law do a great job), the scenery and the commitment to reason. I almost wanted it to end at one point so they wouldn't have time for some dreaded compromise and submission to supernaturalism, but thankfully that never happened. Refreshing, entertaining, uplifting and inspirational. No flaws I could find detracted from those four qualities. I'm pleasantly surprised that something like this was made in this age.

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