WBRi Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes – A Game Of Shadows (2011) - A True-Blue Detective Caper

Sherlock Holmes A Game Of Shadows Film PosterCalcutta December 30, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio/ Penning Creations): When it comes to discussing films, 2011 can best be described as the ‘year of the sequels’. While Hollywood has churned out movies like ‘The Hangover Part 2’, ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’, ‘Happy Feet 2’, ‘Final Destination 5’, ‘Fast Five’, ‘Little Fockers’ and ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ (with varying degrees of theatrical success), ‘Don 2’ has been setting cash-registers jingling closer home. The latest addition to this slew of sequels is Guy Ritchie’s ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows’, the much-anticipated follow-up movie of the 2009 hit ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Much to the delight of cinegoers, and in particular, admirers of detective movies, this film not only meets up to the lofty standards of the first entry to the franchise, but manages to raise the filmmaking bar several notches higher.

Trailer: Shrelock Holmes - A Game Of Shadows

‘A Game Of Shadows’ witnesses master detective ‘Sherlock Holmes’ (Robert Downey Jr.) pit his wits against his deadliest enemy, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). The film starts off with Holmes’ faithful and long-standing partner-in-(solving)-crime, ‘Dr. John Watson’ (Jude Law) making plans to get married to his fiancée, ‘Mary’ (Kerry Reilly). The former also decides to stay away from the crime-solving activities of his friend, which, though exciting, were apparently becoming too hectic for him. But hey, can a Sherlock Holmes movie revolve solely around the mundane matrimonial plans of one of the characters? Certainly not! The villain of the piece, Prof. Moriarty, already has some sinister plans up his sleeve and he intends to put them into action, in order to eliminate all those who are held dear by Sherlock Holmes, his nemesis.

The action starts when Moriarty makes an outrageous murder attempt on the honeymoon couple, ‘Dr. Watson’ and ‘Mary’. The duo, fortunately, get saved by the skin of their teeth. Such an attack on his dearest companion enrages Holmes no end and, together with the already seething Dr. Watson, he sets out on his mission to bring Moriarty to justice, once and for all. The ‘bad man’ of the film, however, has already turned his sights towards dominating the global economy. And how does he intend to give shape to his evil intentions? Simple! Moriarty coaxes French as well as German anarchists to indulge in some serious bomb outrages, which induces the wrath of the political leaders of both the European superpowers. The First World War (the film is set in the 19th century, about 23 years before the actual war started) seems to be in the offing and the evil maestro hopes to gain significantly from such international unrest. Holmes, however, with his tremendous tactical acumen, gets wind of the plans of his arch-rival and realizes the importance of catching Moriarty as soon as possible. With his friend Dr. Watson, his brilliant yet exasperatingly lazy elder brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry) and a mysterious gypsy (Noomi Rapace), Sherlock Holmes takes on the challenge of finding his scheming and devious arch-rival. Do the best efforts of our protagonist meet with success? That’s for the audience to find out on the big screen, for there won’t be plot spoilers here!

‘A Game Of Shadows’ is propped up by the sincere performances from all its principal characters. Prior to the first ‘Sherlock Holmes’ movie, Robert Downey Jr was not even considered to be a member of Hollywood’s A-list of actors. The man, to his credit, has turned his professional career around within a period of two years and is apparently relishing his ‘Sherlock Holmes’ act. The manner in which he portrays the intelligence, tactical acumen, slight eccentricities of nature and an inner feeling of loneliness is indeed worth a round of applause. Glimpses of his acting prowess were evident in the earlier film itself and Downey has grown into an even more powerful actor in the intervening period. The detective dances with Watson, fist-fights with the bad guys and puts on some of the weirdest disguises imaginable (looking like, well, himself, in all of them!) with a charmingly cocky style and a lazy elegance that adds to the overall sleekness of the film even further.

Jude Law, reprising his role as Holmes’ best buddy, Dr. Watson, is excellent. Law is one of the most accomplished character artists among the current crop of Hollywood actors and, just as in the first film, the actor never allows the character of Sherlock Holmes to overshadow his role in this movie either. One of the key factors behind all successful franchise films is the existence of good onscreen chemistry among its leading actors and, in ‘A Game Of Shadows’, the Robert Downey-Jude Law combination works like a charm too.

The best performance in the film, however, comes from Jared Harris, who plays the deliciously wicked ‘Professor Moriarty’. The conventional British character traits and suave demeanour, coupled with an evil glint in the eyes, makes Harris’ ‘Moriarty’ particularly menacing. Unlike many other detective-vs-criminal movies, ‘Moriarty’ simply refuses to roll over and die and has a steely determination to go one-up on Sherlock Holmes. We would love to see more of this fine actor in the forthcoming movies of the franchise (hopefully, there would be many of them!). Stephen Fry, as ‘Mycroft Holmes’ is a revelation. His is the character which brings that extra dash of panache that a detective movie so requires. Kelly Reilly, as ‘Mary Watson’ and Rachael McAdams, as ‘Irene Adler’ have little to do except to dress up in designer clothes and look pretty. To their credit, they manage to do exactly that with consummate ease.

If the first ‘Sherlock Holmes’ movie was the coming-of-age film for director Guy Ritchie (who had previously directed such unbearable flicks as ‘Revolver’ and ‘Rock-n-Rolla’), ‘A Game Of Shadows’ sees the filmmaker in fine fettle. Ritchie’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ depends much more on action and physical confrontation than the more cerebral and intellectual character that had been conceived by Conan Doyle. However, the director manages to make his protagonist equally, if not more, compelling as the central character of the book and the tactical duels of the latter with ‘Moriarty’ are indeed fascinating. The franchise would do well to keep Ritchie at the helm for further sequels (which, of course, might or might not materialize!).

The movie is however, not without its fair share of flaws. The pace of the movie, especially in the first half, is extremely sluggish and the cinematography leaves much to be desired. The background score by Hans Zimmer borders on being jarring and is certainly not in keeping with the sleek thriller that the movie is supposed to be. The movie plot too is not the strongest, but that bit is easily overshadowed by the powerful performances of the main characters.

‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows’ achieves just the right mix of style, humour and thrills for most parts of the movie. With smart camerawork, expert direction and strong performances from the lead actors, the movie succeeds in moving the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ movie franchise in the right direction. There are scopes for improvement, though, and one wishes that the storyline of the movie was more detailed. The film may or may not please hardcore fans of Conan Doyle’s detective character but, for the average cinegoer, ‘A Game Of Shadows’ is just the right movie to spark off the festive season.

Do we want further additions to the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ movie franchise? Elementary, my dear Watson, of course we do!

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