Monday, January 2, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of  Shadows (Warner Bros. 2011)

If there was ever an arch villain, Professor James Moriarty fits the bill. In this second installment of director Guy Ritchie’s series, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows does the evil Professor up right.

All our old friends are back on the streets in London, especially Sherlock’s friend Dr. Watson (Jude Law) in a plot that will have you struggling to keep up. So here’s a quick synopsis: Holmes is keeping low while trying to bust up Moriarty’s crime kingdom. This is no small task.The Professor lives a public life as a respected scientist and political consultant. Holmes is losing sleep and weight as he frantically tries to get evidence of Moriarty’s criminal activities especially in the activities of the Anarchists and their terror bombings.

We enter the story the day before Watson is getting married. Holmes desperately needs his friend’s help, but the good doctor obviously has other things on his mind. In a brilliantly crafted opening, Holmes manages to sweep Watson headlong into his mission to bring down Moriarty. Their adventure takes them to Paris, including a night at the opera,  and Switzerland. They also engage the help of Holmes’s smarter brother Mycroft and a band of gypsies. (There’s also a deadly Russian Dancer. Think of it, and it’s probably in this movie.)

Like the first movie, Shadows is full of Holmes’ intriguing deductions, given to us in flash-forward flashback style. However, the new film seems even more fast paced and over-the-top than the first, aided in no small part by a host of special effects we’ve grown to expect in adventure films.

Make no mistake, A Game of Shadows never insults your intelligence. Quite the opposite, you’ll find yourself listening closely to every bit of dialogue and looking constantly for visual clues to stay with the complex game that is happening. As a young reader of Sherlock Holmes stories, I was gratified that the movie somewhat follows the literary adventures. At times, Moriarty and Holmes are literally battling wits, in their minds predicting a sequence of events (he parries here, I fend him off there) involving each other. To make this work onscreen amounts to movie magic of the highest order. At one point, they’re playing a chess game. As they stand up, walk away from the board and continue calling out moves, you realize the two geniuses are playing blindfold chess. I found myself wanting to write down the moves, because the director probably pulled them from an actual classic game between two chessmasters.

This attention to detail, from the costuming to the lush sets, is part of what makes the Shadows so enjoyable. Style is the star of the show here, supported by the excellent cast.

Moriarty is played by actor Jared Harris, son of the late Richard Harris, and you will just hate him, he’s so good at his part. Mycroft is acted by Stephen Fry, and comes across as even more peculiar than Holmes himself (affectionately called “Shirley” by his older brother.)

In an age where buddy movies and bro’ movies seem to reach new lowbrow levels, it’s remarkable to see the witty interaction between Holmes and Watson. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law communicate a rich,almost brotherly love-hate relationship that I’m certain will go down as a classic performance. (“Oh, how I’ve missed you, Holmes.” “Really? I’ve hardly noticed your absence.”)

The ending will be no surprise for fans of Holmes. Rated PG-13 for lots of good, British blood.

 Footnote: My Dad’s older brother passed away during the Christmas Holidays. He and my Aunt Bette (100% British) gave me my first copy of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for my tenth Christmas. Thanks, Bennie. Keep up the good work up there.

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