Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows

The second installment in Guy Ritchie’s Holmes reboot reminds me, most of all, of The Dark Knight — the reference to this movie’s villain at the end of the previous movie, the theme of escalation, a triangular relationship (in a manner of speaking), the loss of a loved one and above all, the assured hand of a director hitting his stride with a franchise. There is even a scene where one of the characters looks like Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker.

But where the Joker was more interested in chaos for its own sake, Professor James Moriarty is interested in profiting from it. The plot involves Holmes and Watson racing across Europe trying to prevent catastrophe, and finding Moriarty almost always a step ahead. The challenge is something both Holmes and his arch-enemy relish, but Watson? As Mary Morstan-Watson observes at one point, Holmes is likely to want to join them on their honeymoon. Watson himself regards his dear friend with a mixture of admiration, amusement, exasperation and the occasional kolaveri.

The film is populated with a fine cast of character actors. Stephen Fry has a scene-stealing turn as Holmes’ brother Mycroft. “You mean there are two of you?” asks Mary at one point, and you can see why she feels that way. Jared Harris exudes a quiet menace as Moriarty. His exchanges with Holmes are beautifully written and acted. Noomi Rapace plays a gypsy fortune-teller — she does as good a job as the role lets her, but you cannot escape the feeling that this is scant reward for playing Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film series. (Not that the man playing Kalle Blomkvist fared any better.)

The highlight, though, is the Robert Downey Jr. — Jude Law pairing. While the books centered around Holmes and made Watson more of an observer, the films edge closer to buddy-action-movie territory (think Lethal Weapon with period costumes and more deductive reasoning) and their chemistry is absolutely electric. Downey Jr. is an inspired choice to play Holmes — he is capable of playing the role straight, I’m sure, but who better to bring out the detective’s innate kookiness? Law plays the straight man, but delivers his zingers at Holmes with such relish that he makes you wonder why Conan Doyle made Watson look like such a wuss in the first place.

It helps, I think, that the cast and crew don’t treat this like a film adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, but rather like a film series involving a character who might remind you, at times, of a fictional detective you once read about. While there is a lot more action than you might find in your average Holmes story, Ritchie uses some clever editing and economical dialogue to illustrate his hero’s powers of deduction. The result is a kinetic, witty and entertaining motion picture.



6 thoughts on “Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows

  1. I liked watching the first in this series precisely for many of these reasons (not to mention that both men are great to look at) – and wondered if perhaps I liked them better because I’m not a Sherlock Holmes fan; both Holmes and Watson are quite far (and in my opinion, “better”) than those of the books.

  2. “a film series involving a character who might remind you, at times, of a fictional detective you once read about.”

    This. So true.

    It’s not really Holmes, it’s Holmesish, but entertaining all the same.

    (that said, have you watched the BBC’s modern-day Sherlock! I love the callbacks to the original in that one!)

  3. I felt that Holmes was an interesting character per se, but I was not a big fan of ACD’s narrative style when I read those stories. I like the procedural style favoured in modern detective fiction better.

    I do have a fondness for the Jeremy Brett version, mainly because it is what introduced me to the world of private detectives in the first place. Do I like the Ritchie version better? Like I said, I don’t think it’s Holmes (Holmes-ish, as you say Sharon), but for what it is, it’s quite entertaining. Actually, I think my fondness for a Holmes of this nature comes from my liking of High Laurie’s performance in House — another Holmes-ish character.

    Sharon>> I keep hearing about the modern day Sherlock. Need to get my hands on it. So much to see, so little time!

  4. AK says:

    I am still undecided about watching the movies (and only watched a few minutes of the first installment on tv). I am torn between two loves – one, great admiration for the books and very fond memories the images I created of Holmes and Watson in my head while reading them. And the other my undying love for Jude Law. I may end up watching the movies and strive to forget that the lead character reminds me of a detective I once read about. 🙂

    Robert Downey Jr. may have been an inspired choice for Holmes but an irreverent one. As I was just recently discussing with someone, it is almost as though he dishes out the same performance for Holmes as he does for Iron Man..absurd as that sounds you know what I mean. I used to like the guy once.

    • You’re right – he plays Holmes like he played tony stark. But to quote Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds, ” Where our conclusions differ, is I don’t consider the comparison an insult.”

      I think it really does help not to think of this as the Holmes we grew up with. On its own terms, it’s fun to watch.

  5. S says:

    Five snappy, informative and entertaining paragraphs on Guy Ritchie’s Game of Shadows.

    It’s been a while since I watched the Ritchie reboot of Holmes, but I do remember trying to “receive” both films as my introduction to the Guy style of movie making (and what a great Bromance this one was!) rather than a true to the books(or Brett) take on Holmes.

    Your Joker analogy is a good one! Speaks to the diversity in villainy in TDK and this movie, motive-wise: “chaos for chaos sake” vs. ka-ching.

    You bring up that Watson is more an observer in the books and it reminds me of how he is the “observed” in this fabulous scene in the film. (Also a great example of “observer changing the observed”: Mary Morstan’s changing demeanor even as Holmes “observes” her after he’s done with Watson; speaking of, you’ve gotta love her spunky quip to Holmes as he cheekily starts off his observing, “Take Watson”: “I intend to!”)

    Oh, and marvelous job managing to work in “kolaveri” and “Kalle Blomkvist.” Devil’s in the details, as Holmes says.

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