Now Playing Review

New Sherlock All Style No Story; The Debt Pays Handsome Dividends

DRIVEL – I never thought I’d say this, but I’m tired of watching Robert Downey Jr. In fact, I would be okay if he went back to disappearing for years at a time and showing up disoriented and nude in strangers’ foyers.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows cost a fortune to make (over $100m), and while Downey Jr. backed up his personal Brinks truck to the Warner Bros. accounting department, most of the moolah is up on the screen. The film looks spectacular, a 19th Century urban London playground that is gorgeous to stare at. But they might have been wise to spend another six months and a couple of million more on the script – maybe even considered bringing in Aaron Sorkin.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is apparently about anarchy resulting in terrorism, and how when weapons and business collide war is inevitable (funny, similar theme to the original Iron Man). But none of this really carries much water.

Basically, it is not much more than an overly-stylized two-hour and ten minute slap dash collage of pithy dialogue exchanges and super slo-mo action sequences. Director Guy Ritchie has some inspired visual concepts and techniques up his sleeve, but the relationships in the film are window dressing at best, and odd to say the least.

The film’s main thrust is a seemingly gay love story between super sleuth ‘Holmes’ and his slender and docile side kick ‘Watson,’played by Jude Law. Law’s character comes off like a lamb in the wolf’s den as Downey’s crafty and manipulating ‘Holmes’ relentlessly finagles ways to get him alone – all to himself.

I identified this subtext all throughout the first Sherlock Holmes (2009). Here it is worn on the sleeve with ‘Holmes’ showing up in drag on a train to sabotage ‘Watson’s’ honeymoon, saying things like “Unlike you, I repress nothing,” and “lay with me, Watson.” And finally this cliché line of domestic matrimonial angst “Are you happy?”

If you have never seen the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, give it a rent. It’s a fascinating look at the lengths that gay writers, producers, and directors used to go to tell “their” stories in otherwise conventional and commercial Hollywood films. So much of it extremely subtle – some of the inside winks not so much.

But in the case of Sherlock Holmes I’m not sure what the filmmakers intentions are, because it’s not subtle at all, yet there is no open declaration that the legendary snoop is homosexual, so…what gives? Seems cowardly to try and have it both ways in today’s more tolerant cinematic climate.

Since it is inevitable that there will be another Sherlock Holmes film down the road, I for one, will be happy when Ritchie goes back to making music videos and turns the reigns over to a better story-teller. I’m pretty sure the late ‘Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have agreed.

As for Robert Downey Jr.? Clearly he is enormously talented, but he is heading down the wrong path with his chops here and in the Iron Man role ( Iron Man 2 was atrocious). For me to watch him in either again, both of Downey Jr.’s blockbuster personas would have to battle ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’ in a bloody cage match where no one walks away.

Read Louise Keller’s review here.

YEP YEP The Debt held my attention from the opening moments all the way through to the credit roll. There is not one wasted moment in this picture. It is shot beautifully, written with a clear intention, directed by a sure hand, expertly edited, and expertly acted. I loved it.

The actors, Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington, and Jessica Chastain, make a compelling and totally believable trio of Israeli special agents assigned the harrowing task of capturing a Nazi war criminal and spiriting him out of Germany.

I was reminded of two other war criminal films I admired, Spielberg’s Munich (2005) and Costa-Gavras’ Music Box (1989); but an even stronger recall of Roman Polanski’s Death and the Maiden (1994).

John Madden, Oscar nominated for Shakespeare In Love (1998), is really good here. There is not an ounce of fat on the spine of The Debt. Every moment connects and the action is taut and delivered with precision. Much like the Israeli military itself.

Writer Matthew Vaughn and cinematographer Ben Davis collaborated on the kick ass Layer Cake (2004). Here they were guided by Madden, who handles the material beautifully.

Of course it doesn’t hurt to have Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson anchor the narrative, a non-linear story that takes us back and forth between what really happened with their prisoner and what they told the world. The dilemma of their deception is “the debt” they owe.

Some of the accents are a bit wonky – Worthington and Wilkinson being the most significant culprits – but overall the picture’s authenticity, time and place, is never an issue. Chastain in particular stands out. The camera loves her and she is an outstanding actor. Remember her name.

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