Home > Film > Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

The question, I suppose, is what we should expect to see when the title of the film mentions Sherlock Holmes. At the first available opportunity, should Sherlock say, “Elementary, my dear Watson” (a phrase never actually used by Conan Doyle), should he display his deductive reasoning while playing the violin, smoking the tobacco from his Persian slipper or mainlining seven-percent solution, or should he wear a deerstalker and an Inverness cape? There are many possible stereotypes that could be adopted. . .

Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law anticipating another attempt to kill them

Well, defying convention at every possible turn, here comes Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, an action-packed adventure directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in their second outing as the dynamic duo. To add a little European sparkle for the box-office ratings, there’s a moderate role for Noomi Rapace, this time wearing rather more clothing than as Lisbeth Salander, with Jared Harris playing Professor Moriarty, Rachel McAdams returning in a cameo as Irene Adler and Stephen Fry as Mycroft (sometimes not wearing as many clothes as he should). It’s a good cast with many other familiar faces popping up in the support roles. Even the landscaping looks good again. In the first Ritchie attempt at Holmes, London was also a “star” with loving attention given to the city as a living, breathing place. This time, although we start in London, Paris also gets a good showing off with a nice castle on top of the Reichenbach Falls.

So how does this film stack up against all the other Holmes offerings? The news is mostly good. Although it’s less obvious as we watch it through, there’s actually some quite clever deductive reasoning going on. Why is it less obvious? Because Ritchie’s camera glosses over some scenes very quickly. In other “detective” films, the camera lingers and allows us, the audience, a chance to spot the clues. Sadly, it’s only when we get a slow-motion reprise of those scenes that we are allowed the chance to see what Holmes saw with his triumphant voice-over explaining the significance of it all. Ah, the slow-motion sequences. . . This is hopelessly overused. I was mildly intrigued the first time we saw predictive movements played out in real time. It was an interesting idea to see how his planning either did or did not work. The final confrontation with Moriarty is also faintly amusing as they both play the same mental game of predicting attack and defence. But the continued use of the technique becomes annoying. If he does make a third (with about $65 million in box-office takings worldwide over the first weekend, the chances of a third look quite strong), I hope he finds some new toy to play with. Anyway, back with the reasoning, Watson and the Swedish gypsy get their own apply-the-Sherlock-method moment and that proves rather effective.

Moriarty (Jarred Harris) as a real Victorian gentleman and supervillain

I confess to liking Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson. Although they are given some incredibly silly things to do — Holmes pretending to be furniture must rank as one of the silliest of all time — they manage to keep their dignity and, more importantly, they make a good team. This Watson is genuinely a warrior and, although he loses his limp rather rapidly when running for his life, he’s a crack shot and very steady under pressure. This is just the man you would want by your side if the game was afoot. There are moments of real respect and affection between them with Holmes trusting the man on two vital occasions. They also manage to produce humour from the situations in which they are placed. It may not be laugh-out-loud, but it’s entertaining in a gentle way. Yet the real basis for the success of this film is the characterisation of Professor Moriarty. Jared Harris plays him as a very urbane gentleman whose mask only slips a little when Holmes skewers him with an analysis of his handwriting. Later when he and Holmes can enjoy a little quality time together to discuss fishing techniques, we see him as a narcissistic sadist but, at the end, they can find a moment of peace to play chess while the fate of the world is being decided in the ballroom on the other side of the door. There’s a certain solicitousness about the Professor’s care for the injured Holmes when he wraps a cape about his shoulders. They might have been friends in another lifetime.

Noomi Rapace doing her best in an underwritten role as a gypsy

Noomi Rapace is just about given a fair crack of the whip. Although this is a film about the threat of war and so, in these patriarchal Victorian times, very much the province of men, she’s allowed to be more than merely decorative. She runs, jumps, rides and, for her sins, dances her way through England, France, Germany and Switzerland on her way to finding her missing brother. It’s better than the usual female tokenism you see in blockbusters. As in the Conan Doyle originals, Sherlock Holmes survives the Reichenbach Falls and Colonel Moran lives to fight another day if he can find the empty house in time for the possible third film in the series. I note Conan Doyle did accord Moran the honour of being the second most dangerous man in London. It would be good if Jared Harris could be persuaded to return as well. As a concluding thought, this is an interesting week with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows going up against Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. In my opinion, Sherlock beats Ethan. The other linking factor is that these two films give international recognition to Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist who were launched in the Stieg Larsson Millenium trilogy. By coincidence, I’m going to see the David Fincher remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo next week.

  1. December 25, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Waiting for this film to release in India.

    • December 25, 2011 at 8:06 pm

      It’s better than the first Sherlock Holes film directed by Guy Ritchie and worth waiting for.

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