Review: Steampunk ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is riveting

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Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes throws you into a hansom cab for a rollicking ride through gaslit Victorian London.

The Warner Bros. picture, opening Christmas Day, stars Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) in the title role and Jude Law (A.I. Artificial Intelligence) as his partner in crime-solving, former British Army Dr. John Watson.

The plot is tight and worthy of the Holmes mythology, even if it is woven of whole cloth. There are many elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories — bumbling police inspectors; Holmes’ penchant for pugilism and shabby disguises; and the only woman he ever loved, an American opera starlet who is also the only criminal known to have outwitted the great detective (Rachel McAdams, The Time Traveler’s Wife, in a brilliant turn as Irene Adler). All are used to craft a unique story centered around a shadowy cult’s deadly objectives.

At times, the supernatural nature of the conspiracy threatens to strain credulity and take too much liberty with the source material — a flaw the movie shares with Steven Spielberg’s fantastic 1985 production Young Sherlock Holmes. The possibility of the impossible is an amusing detour into “what if” territory that truly tests the heroes’ faith in reason and gives us insight into the darkest fears of the 19th century mind. But Holmes is on the case, so logic prevails in the end.

Like any good detective novel, the movie makes you question everyone’s motive, but doesn’t force you down the obvious path. Through it all, the movie is held together by the camaraderie of the slovenly genius Holmes and his soon-to-be-former roommate, the fastidious Dr. Watson. The latter’s upcoming marriage has strained the duo’s relationship, and long-simmering frustrations boil over to generate many of the film’s more humorous moments.

The lavishly sooty look of Sherlock Holmes is almost a character unto itself. Every rivet is a nod to the steampunk enthusiast who feels underserved by Hollywood. Every perilous gear is both a sign of the Industrial Revolution and a look into Holmes’ methodical, rational mind.

Sherlock Holmes
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
Running time: 139 min.
Grade: A

See also: TCM will be Holmes for Christmas

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