Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reel To Reel: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

Now the real mystery begins.

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Victorian-flavored martial arts violence, gunplay and bawdiness

I will admit to you quite sheepishly that I've only read a couple of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories: "The Three Garridebs" and "The Red-Headed League." So I am relying on my Royal Father's considerable Holmes knowledge base when I tell you the sequel to the 2009 hit mashes up three Holmes stories, including one that Doyle hoped would be his last.

It also gets back to basics. Gone from this edition are the steampunk influences that made the first film trendy but abnormal. However, director Guy Ritchie doesn't mess with a winning formula. It still holds on to the characterization of Holmes as a skilled fighter and while adding his (Downey) greatest arch-nemesis, the sinister Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), a criminal genius who really is a genius.

As the picture opens, France and Germany are at each other's throats in the late 1800's, and the rest of Europe could be pulled in if Moriarty's fiendish plot plays out. Holmes is the thorn in his side, but simply killing him is too easy... or too tough depending on your perspective. The two meet in a pre-game parlay like the commanders of two colonial armies taking the battlefield. "Do you want to play this game?" Moriarty asks of Holmes. Of course he does, especially after finding what the doctor did to his love interest.

The entire film is a gigantic, violent game of chess with moves and counter-moves, each man trying to outsmart the other. Caught in the middle is Holmes' beleaguered best friend Dr. Watson (Law), who's just gotten married but has to put his honeymoon on hold to follow Holmes on a case that has ended up endangering both their lives. Naturally, the climatic scene throws in an actual game of chess.

A Game Of Shadows forces you to pay attention to all the details, because all those details are going to come back in the next scene, or some scene down the reel. Nothing gets by Holmes, who admits to us, "I see everything," while confiding it is both curse and blessing.

I have to admit I was drawn in by the lush costuming of this picture, which will draw an easy Oscar nomination. And naturally, I'm a sucker for a handsomely costumed ball scene, which this picture delivers right down to the servants in the breeches. Even if the film isn't exactly true to Doyle's dialogue and storylines of the Victorian era, it certainly delivers the style.

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