Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) – Review

Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a very fun action film that in many ways surpasses the first. The film finds Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on the trail of their greatest nemesis Professor Moriarty. The best aspect of this film is the relationship (and the scenes between) Moriarty and Holmes. They play off each other extremely well, and are the main reason this is one of the better action films of the year. Plus, their scene together at the climax of the film is phenomenal. Director Guy Ritchie is maybe a bit over indulgent in the style that he has created for the Sherlock Holmes franchise. There is a lot of slow motion (and by a lot I mean A LOT). However, while this should get old quickly, the artistry of the mise en scene during many of these slow motion shots, and the way each frame is designed, is fantastic (especially when Holmes and crew are being chased through the forest with mortars going off). Other aspects of the film are a bit exaggerated as well. Holmes is almost a caricature of himself with countless sight gags and an over-the-top performance by Robert Downey Jr (almost bordering on Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in the later Pirates of the Caribbean films). That said, his character still works in the framework of the narrative for two reasons. Ritchie has built the series around the infusion of humor, and thus some silliness is not only expected but encouraged. And, Holmes is grounded as a character, despite all his antics, because his relationships with Moriarty, Watson and Irene Adler feel real and have a truth to them – thanks to great performances and chemistry among the actors. Also to Ritchie’s credit is how well he paces the film. He continuously keeps the narrative moving, with building tension and great action set pieces. While the film lacks a strong mystery aspect to it (which could be taken as a huge flaw in the film – as Sherlock Holmes is the world’s greatest detective so of course a film with him should have a fantastic mystery plotline to it – and probably should be), the film is too much fun to be overly concerned with the fact that the audience knows everything from the beginning (more or less) and does not have to figure anything out. Plus, some of the principle characters (specifically Simza Heron) are pointless on a deeper level and only serve to forward the plot. Ritchie also takes full advantage of his actor’s comedic skill and does a great job with the humor, as the film is quite funny at times, but he also still manages to have the stakes feel real and does not lose the overall tension of the narrative – again thanks to good performances and chemistry (plus, again, the showdown between Holmes and Moriarty is brilliant and makes the film really a success). A Game of Shadows is a highly entertaining film that also manages to keeps its characters feeling real. It is a lot of fun to watch.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Guy Ritchie has probably made his most entertaining and rewarding Hollywood film with A Game of Shadows (though it is not quite as good as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). He has found a good balance between his own aesthetic style and creating good characters that exist in entertaining narratives (something lacking in many of his recent films). Hans Zimmer’s score is brilliant (like almost all of his recent work). It is likely to be among the most deserving but overshadowed scores of the year (plus, he took himself out of the running for the Oscars). It is both intense and playful with the character (here is a sampling). Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography is also top notch. (As state above), his shot compositions, working with Ritchie, are very good. They have so much kinetic energy and yet still capture the beauty of the surroundings and the gravity of the situation. Sarah Greenwood’s work (she is becoming one of my favorite production designers) is also very good, matching the tone and feel of the piece perfectly. Ultimately, even given the fame of the character, this is a star vehicle, and in so much should contain an iconic star performance. Downey Jr. has done just that with both the Holmes films. Here, while he is a bit on the caricature side, he brings life and complexity to the character, portraying his gift as a curse and playing jokes to hide the pain. Jude Law is great as Watson, and really his performance is essential to grounding the over-the-top nature of Downey Jr.’s Holmes. Jared Harris is the perfect choice to play Moriarty. He is himself not menacing in a physical way, but his face and line delivery inflict so much weighted terror that he is completely believable as the world’s greatest criminal mastermind. He is in every way a wonderful match to Downey Jr., which he absolutely needed to be for the film to work. Stephen Fry is quite funny and Noomi Rapace is decent, both playing grievously under-written characters (though, they do forward the plot and are not the focus of film). Fry however makes up for his lack of true character with a wonderful performance, the same cannot be said for Rapace. Kelly Reilly and Rachel McAdams are both good in their small but important appearances.

Summary & score: A Game of Shadows is one of the most entertaining films of the year, mainly in a purely spectacle sense but also due to the excellent chemistry and portrayals of Holmes and his greatest nemesis Moriarty. 8/10


  1. Although all of the freshness that was part of the first one is somewhat over-used, the flick is still a lot of fun with Downey Jr., Harris, and Law breathing life into each of their own characters. However, I was kind of disappointed by Noomi Rapace’s role as she just simply stands there and really doesn’t do anything. Regardless though, good review. Check mine out when you can.

  2. Haven't seen this one yet but sounds great!
    Hans Zimmer have to agree. Loved his soundtrack for Blood + the anime.

    This seems very fun.