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DETECTIVE FRICTION
Guy Ritchie’s films have not exactly been the most consistent of any modern director so I admit when his Sherlock Holmes was announced with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, I was more than a little skeptical. While his debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was accomplished but unconvincing, the followup Snatch was very entertaining. But with Revolver and Rock ‘n’ Rolla, he seemed to be nothing more than a middle class bloke obsessed with London gangsters. Sherlock Holmes is his best film to date, directed with an assured hand and with a very likable cast including Downey Jr in the title role, continuing his resurrection as one of the most charismatic male actors in modern Hollywood and even Jude Law looks comfortable and at ease here as Dr Watson. Ritchie has remade Doyle’s Holmes as a man of action, who works out adversaries’ weak points in fights and then acts on them while Watson is a veteran of the Afghanistan War at the end of the Victorian era. The film doesn’t waste any time, setting the scene with the capture of upper class loony Lord Blackwood (played with vulpine grace by Mark Strong), who has an appointment with the scaffold but informs anyone who’ll listen that he’ll rise from the grave and turn the world upside-down. Holmes is skeptical but when Blackwood’s body disappears from its home in Brompton Cemetery, the detective and his partner are thrown into a mystery that seems to have metaphysical connections at its core. Ritchie introduces a thinly veined Masonic analogue at the centre of this conundrum. Blackwood and his compatriots intend to replace the government with a ruling council of their own choosing and so Holmes and Watson are in a race to prevent this from happening. While the script and characterisation bear no resemblance to any of the film’s forebears, Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes barrels along at a very nice pace with some decent interplay between Downey Jr and Law and some very impressive visual flourishes from the director and his production designer. The scene where we see Holmes fight a significantly larger man in a bareknuckle boxing match makes it feel like a steampunk Victorian James Bond. There are flaws here: why you would have to ride along the river when making your way from Baker Street to Pentonville Prison, just so you can foreshadow the film’s conclusion, is clumsy and lazy and sometimes Downey Jr’s eccentric Holmes can be a little irritating but for the most part, this movie is an entertaining and engaging modern action adventure. It sets things up for a sequel, rumoured to feature Holmes’s classic adversary Moriarty played by Brad Pitt. It feels like they’re trying to set up a franchise here and this would not be a bad thing for cinema at the minute. Perhaps the fact that it was only directed rather than written by Ritchie has steered it away from the problems of some of his worst films. Sherlock Holmes is grand adventure for the Christmas period…