Sherlock in superb style and panache

2012-01-03 00:00


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


MORE than likely, this movie will go over everyone’s heads. That’s elementary in a Sherlock Holmes story, as we saw in the 2009 film which also starred Robert Downey Jnr as Holmes and Jude Law as Dr John Watson. However, what Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows lacks in crispness of plot, it makes up for in style and panache in true Guy-Ritchie fashion. In short, you either like it or you don’t. I am in the former group.

It was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who introduced the character of Holmes in the 1893 story, The Final Problem, and therein was the birth of James Moriarty, the perfect intellectual and physical equal-but-opposite to the detective.

In A Game of Shadows, Moriarty (played superbly by Jared Harris) and his schemes have Holmes in a tizz as he tries to de-cipher the criminal’s reasoning and endgame — it’s all “deliciously complicated” (to quote Holmes). Meanwhile, Watson is about to marry his beloved Mary (Kelly Reilly) and effectively end his partnership with Holmes, who has been occupying his time investigating the schemes of his archenemy. But Moriarty’s methods involve targeting accomplices as collateral damage, and so Watson is effectively dragged into the story by virtue of the fact that he and his new wife are the targets of the villain, and Holmes has to come to their rescue.

The rescue takes place on a train — the first of many brilliant action sequences — where Watson is successfully recruited into one last case which involves saving Western civilisation. No pressure. To aid them, Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is a quest to find her missing brother who may be the key to defeating Moriarty.

The signature style of Ritchie is evident, but the film seems to have more layers to it. The cast also involves Stephen Fry as Holmes’s brother, who strips naked to gather a laugh when Downey Jnr isn’t on screen dominating.

And that of course is the point – this is the Downey Jnr show in Ritchie’s film. This is how he has chosen to make a character of Holmes’s stature less stodgy and dull: to give the audience a man who is as dangerous physically as he is intellectually. And as his equal, Jared Harris as Moriarty is a superb low-key villain (although it would have been interesting to see Brad Pitt – director Ritchie’s first choice – in the role).

That said, it is seldom that a really compelling villain arrives on screen, but there’s something about the way Harris embodies this role which makes the whole film more compelling than just a stylistic romp.

It may not be perfect, but there’s some witty dialogue delivered with relish by the cast and a feast of visual action sequences, which for fans is a big-screen must-see. ****

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