So it's no secret that I have mixed feelings about the movies of Guy Ritchie - he burst on the scene with the great Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, melding a post-Tarantino gangster irony with a very British view of social stratification, and followed it up with the equally excellent Snatch. But then he married Madonna, made Swept Away (one of the worst flicks I've ever seen) and seemed to careen into irrelevance. His last few movies have been high-concept messes that were almost purposefully impossible to follow. But now, with the Queen of Pop behind him and an all-star cast, he's poised to take home a Christmas blockbuster with Sherlock Holmes. I caught it opening night, and was pleasantly surprised.
So Sherlock Holmes, the character, is one of the most iconic figures in all of fiction - but since Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his original stories, Holmes has been in some ways watered down, presented as more of an effete intellectual than the multi-disciplined figure he was originally created as. Ritchie's greatest success, ably abetted by Robert Downey Jr, is to return Holmes from the land of caricature. His master detective is alive with excitement and the thrill of the hunt, and Downey's performance does a ton to rehabilitate the staid cliche. Jude Law also excels as Watson, Holmes' manservant, foil and sounding board. Lastly, the stunning Rachel McAdams is great as Irene Adler, very loosely based on the one woman to bedevil Sherlock in the original text.
The weakest part of the film is, shockingly, the plot - a tangled mess of supernatural doings and secret societies anchored by the excellent Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood, a Jack the Ripper type who was hung but won't stay dead. Ritchie's films have never been known for their logical progressions, and in Sherlock Holmes we want to actually see the great detective detecting, not just concluding, and that's sadly remiss. But it doesn't drag the spectacle down while you're in the theater. It's impossible not to get swept away by the perfectly-recreated London and the pitch-perfect performances. Highly recommended.