Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

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It seems to be that time of month for me to declare myself once again the enemy of good taste. Guy Ritchie, director of action films that use and abuse slow motion to great affect, has returned to one of literature's most durable creations, the unmistakable sleuth of Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes.

Always handled as one of those men who looks at grisly murder scenes and unwinds the killer in a few quick observations, Ritchie and star Robert Downey Jr. have played up Holmes' eccentricity to the point of mania. Rather that the stoic, Holmes has instead settled on a personality that functions as a distraction from his intellect, which is both at once beneficial and obfuscatory-- this Holmes is a mystery unto himself.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows pits Holmes against one of the men to whom the term arch villain was first applied, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Moriarty is his equal in every way, and also thrives living in a double life. However, whereas Holmes doesn't know his limits, Moriarty has his perfectly calculated to a dangerous degree.

Manic. Depressive.

This conflict is and always has been interesting enough on its own, but Game of Shadows wisely expands their conflict to a continental scale, and frames it against the end of the Victorian Era and the rush towards the disastrous first World War. The two men aren't just fighting for dominance, but to shape European values in their own natures.

The machinations of the plot should be familiar to anyone who's seen an action movie, as Moriarty, who's recently come into the majority ownership of an arms manufacturer, plots to spark a war between the seething powerhouses France and Germany. I'm pretty sure I've seen a half dozen Bond films about that sort of thing alone-- Tomorrow Never Dies redux if you will.

What works here is not the plan to start World War I early (the film's set in a more cavalier 1891), but the film's acute use of real world foreshadowing to instill in the audience a sense of awe and fear at the lumbering possibility of conventional warfare. When the enemies turn these massive machines of war against our protagonists, first with only small arms and then increasing in size until several lumbering howitzers make their appearance and lay unyielding waste to forest that Sherlock and his comrades are making their escape through.

Ritchie's decision to play up this horror is what fascinates me, as his trademark slow motion and dirt filled shots carefully linger on the shrapnel and splinters that leave the copious marks on the few survivors (unsurprisingly, only our main cast). Creating this, giving the audience a history lesson not just in coy hints (as in a few regrettable scenes in Hugo) but as a full blown visceral reminders of the utter horror of unfettered violence-- not that are possible, but really, truly happened.

After the audience sees one lumbering cannon take out a enormous section of a factory, we follow it up with this shot, indicating that that destruction was barely anything.

It's details like this and the more cosmopolitan expanse of their journey that makes Game of Shadows feel so uniquely dark and lived in. The movie ups the dramatic ante in several ways, as most of the first part of the film involves a chase, not to Moriarty but a frantic retreat as the professor enacts plots to end the life of Dr. Watson (Jude Law) and his new bride (Kelly Reilly).

Also along for the ride is a female companion (either Rachel McAdams or Noomi Rapace at any given point in time), and Stephen Fry as Holmes's dainty brother. The larger cast reflects the larger scale of the film-- Ritchie's London was quite vibrant in the first Holmes, and the scope of this sequel is comparatively grandiose-- is matched as Holmes navigates from the between squalor and privilege, entering a world that's both viciously violent but doing its best to develop a honest sense of equality and civility.

Hans Zimmer's unrelentingly catchy score frames the narrative and backs up the good humor and desires of Holmes-- who I imagine in this film can hear the soundtrack as he stumbles along. If the film offers no deep introspection on his behalf, but considering his own madness, getting lost in thought may mean never managing a return to reality.

To put my love for this movie into contrast, I've always loathed director Guy Ritchie. His early efforts, Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, are glib, empty wastes of cinematic space. In fact, his film Swept Away is easily one of the most vile, repugnant, and utterly worthless pieces of cinema available for human consumption. To say that I found his first Sherlock Holmes film passable was a great surprise, and to find myself fawning over this is a great shock.

Jude Law is always a pleasure to watch when he's having fun, and here he seems to be having a blast.

Most critics are crying fowl; I'm not seeing it. The chemistry between Downey and Law is undeniably joyful, and the mystery, while not built as a classical whodunit, is still enticingly tense. In terms of film adaptations, the world Ritchie creates is far more vile and meticulous than anything the recent sanitized/modernized BBC series has on display, nor anything few other directors have dared to attempt.

Ritchie's Holmes is a fascinating combination of the modern idiot savant and a Victorian man of respectability, and A Game of Shadows eagerly pushes him to the top of the cliff and beyond.

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Posted by Danny

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  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.

  2. Yeah, her character pretty much defined a ‘person as a plot point’ aesthetic, which was kind of annoying. So, yeah, lousy character, but at least they didn’t give her a lot of screen time.

  3. Noomi Rapace was pointless in the film. I feel like they added her just because they felt that they needed a woman in these scenes.

  4. Good movie, loved it 🙂
    May be not like the first one but still good…

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