Movie: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows
Directed by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Stephen Frye, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris.
I have so many feelings about this movie that in order to be coherent, I'm going to have to look at one aspect of the movie at a time.
The plot: One of the (few) flaws of the first Holmes installment was the mystery and villain. While almost everything else in the movie was spot-on, the actual diabolical plot turned out to be pretty transparent. This installment remedies this. While the mystery is still, at heart, fairly straight-forward, Moriarty's planning and execution of such a complex scheme with so many moving parts is impressive and, thankfully, worthy of such an iconic nemesis. Because the plot is much more political and clever, the movie itself is a little slower than the first one, though it is in no way less interesting or lacking in action.
In the middle of all the political intrigue, we have two big subplots that really take over by infusing a human element to movie. First we have the upcoming nuptials of Watson, which we saw Holmes balking at in the last movie. In this movie, we don't see him balking so much as resigning himself to a life of loneliness. On the other hand, we see Watson starting to realize that while his life is full, Holmes' life is not. He is Holmes' only friend and that is a hard place to be for any person. Then we have Holmes and Moriarty's mental chess game (and literal chess game at one point). Holmes has finally come up against someone that he cannot wow with his mental prowess. He tries to confront him with his usual brash style and faces a man who is unimpressed and heartless. It is at the moment - when Holmes realizes that Moriarty is not above cutting down everything and everyone in Holmes' life - that we realize this movie is serious business.
We also have plenty of symbolism which was kind of refreshing because the first movie seemed to lack it, and because it is not heavy-handed. There are running symbols throughout the movie, including devil imagery tied up with Moriarty, the fisher and the trout story, and the, of course, chess pieces. These symbols help us to realize that the mystery is not really what we're watching - we are watching Holmes and Moriarty. We are watching Holmes and Watson. Everything else is just caught in their gravity.
The acting: Superb. Everyone brings their best. Robert Downey Jr. plays Holmes with the same childish humor from last time, but with a nice dose of fear and anger at the danger Moriarty poses (and the damage he's done and threatens to do to Holmes personally). The script, which is a little darker in some places than the first movie, calls for Downey to swing from impishness to pain and vulnerability fairly quickly and Downey handles it delicately. Law is back to perfection as the feistier, smarter Watson that he created in the first movie. He's torn between a co-dependent man who obviously loves and needs him and a life full of normalcy. It's not an easy choice and even when Watson is seething at Holmes, we understand that he cares more for him that perhaps anyone else in his life. Stephen Frye isn't given much to do as Mycroft Holmes, but the fact that the elder Holmes was supposed to be even more eccentric than Sherlock is something that could have been a disaster but is done well in Frye's hands. Jared Harris as Moriarty is great-he's benevolent and well-spoken. He's not a psychopath. He's a sociopath. He's calm and collected and just so practical that human collateral means nothing to him. This calmness makes the few moments where he is overtly sinister (he engages in a little torture at one point, complete with hearty opera singing at the same time - he's quite the multi-tasker) all that much more startling.
The cinematography: Beautiful. Watching movies like this makes me want to know more about camera work and whatnot. But not being very knowledgeable about how things are done, I can just say that the entire film is beautiful. Ritchie certainly knows how to film people and things so that they look their best. This also translates over to the action...
The action: This Holmes installment starts off a little slow. It is necessary to have Holmes more mentally engaged in conflict than physically, but the fight scenes are still breathtaking and we still see inside Holmes' mind as he plots out what needs to be done. While this works stylistically, it also helps us see how ordered Holmes' brain has to be just to survive in a world filled with stimuli.
The last half hour or so of the movie really ramps up on the action and doesn't disappoint. Ritichie employs painfully slow slow-motion techniques, but somehow manages to still have a frenetic edge. The last gunfight is just absolutely beautiful.
I won't get into the loveliness of the ending. I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say it Ritchie manages to infuse just tiny moments with emotions that many director's can't seem to pull off in their entire movies.
5 out of 5 stars and I recommend this movie to anyone.