Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

The action driven Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (directed by Guy Richie, cowritten by the husband and wife team Kieran and Michele Mulroney based on the Sherlock Holmes series of Arthur Conan Doyle) will certainly continue to annoy purists who with reason wonder why a Sherlock Holmes story told today would need explosions and fireworks and death defying leaps.

Be this complaint legitimate as it may, the current incarnation of Sherlock Holmes [IMDb] (played by Robert Downey, Jr) does bear characteristics of the old.  Like in the original, Sherlock Holmes is something of a "bohemian" / "renaissance man."  He's not afraid of trying things that are new, including, like in the original series, the occasional drug (like opium in the original series, or coca in the current -- Parents do take note), which today we know would be dangerous but in Sherlock's time (in Victorian England of the 1800s) would have been seen as exotic and potentially useful.  Holmes also retains his legendary powers of deduction.  However in the current series, this faculty is used by Holmes not only to use seemingly insignificant strands of information (evidence) to deduce what happened ("who done it?") but what is about to happen.  This ability to rapidly deduce what's about to happen, not only gets Holmes and often annoyed/incredulous partner Dr Watson [IMDb] (played by Jude Law) out of traps about to be sprung on them, it also gives this series set in the Victorian Era a post-Matrix feel.  Finally, Holmes' famous pipe makes an unmistakable comeback in this episode.  So as irritated as some of us "older fogeys" may be that the cerebral Sherlock Holmes has been given an "action-hero" make-over, it's not a total break and it's not totally without value.

So what is the movie about?  Set in 1895, the movie's about nothing less than saving European civilization from a war being instigated by Sherlock Holmes' archfiend, the brilliant Professor James Moriarty [IMDb] (played by Jared Harris).  Sure Europe's presented as a powder keg of nationalist tensions.  France and Germany are at each other's throats.  Additionally, there are anarchists in all countries seeking to bring the whole system down.  But below it all is (according to this story) James Moriarty who's quietly buying both armaments factories and medical supply firms all over Europe even as he bankrolls anarchists setting-off destabilizing but seemingly unrelated explosions in both France and Germany pushing them (and with them, the rest of Europe) to war.  Only someone like Sherlock Holmes, who notices details and relationships between details that no one else seems to notice, can prevent World War ... ;-)

In previous entries on this blog, I've written much about an annoying but apparent trend of politicizing children's stories this year.  Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a film set in another time, but also with more-or-less obvious political implications.  Yet, I do believe that it is fair to seek to teach young people (teens and above) to think critically and to understand that "things are not necessarily always as they seem" that it ought not to be impossible to imagine that even a terrorist group (the contemporary equivalent of the anarchists of the late 1800s and early 1900s) could be bankrolled and directed by one or another arms merchant who could profit from war.  What was SPECTRE in the original James Bond series but a group of "industrialists" meeting in chalets in exotic locations like Switzerland plotting to destabilize the world for profit?

Now just because conspiracies are possible does not necessarily make them real.  Still, I do believe that it is useful/important for young people to realize that things are not always as they seem.  And even Jesus did spend a lot of time talking about and condemning "hypocrites."

So, while all kinds of people could have all kinds of objections (from literary to thematic) to the current Sherlock Holmes films, I do think that they are enjoyable and may help today's youth to think critically about the world around them.

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  1. I like what you're saying about the movie, and I think you can take it a few steps further-- the film's portrayal of someone attempting to preemptively start World War I early really plays up the idea of how horrific that war would be, early or not. And since that war did happen, it creates within the film an ominous sense of realization within the audience of how awful conventional warfare was when unfettered nationalism, provoked or not, is unleashed.

    Good review!

  2. Nice review of the movie. Downey Jr makes a very interesting Sherlock Holmes.

    I liked the first movie. I need to check this one out.