I watched this film in the middle of our student ministry all-nighter, and it might have been a bad choice of films. 300 exhausted junior high students in a theater at 3AM, all trying to follow a movie that enjoys twists this much? An hour in, half the populace of the theater was strewn across the floor, fast asleep. I can’t say I blame them. It’s not the sort of movie you want to try to follow after two hours of ice skating.
Which isn’t – and I can’t say this enough – to say that the movie isn’t any good. I tweeted half a dozen quick potshots at the movie’s elaborate and increasingly unnecessary twists as our bus was plodding home, and most people took that as a sign that I hadn’t enjoyed the film. I actually enjoyed it a great deal, it’s a fun action caper, and I enjoy watching people argue while wearing waistcoats. I’ll watch Robert Downey, Jr. doing almost anything, and I’ve got a real soft spot in my heart for Jude Law. Really, any Guy Ritchie movie is a tremendously watchable affair (with one giant exception). I’d go see Sherlock 3: A Twist inside a Twist inside a Dream Sequence in a heartbeat.
But it seems that while Ritchie clearly put his whole heart into directing this movie (even as an experienced action director, he’s never been this on his game when it comes to all the whizz-bang of these turn-of-the-century gun battles), he doesn’t seem to have any interest in directing an actual Sherlock Holmes movie.
A Game of Shadows is really just a buddy cop movie set in old England, and two or three “Sherlock’s mind at work” cutaways in the world don’t make it anything else. We never really know what’s going on in Sherlock’s head from moment to moment, nor do we get the sense that any of this is really a slow-playing master plan. Sherlock seems purely reactionary, and a quick-cut “it was all on purpose!” sequence at the end is belied by the sheer magnitude of bullet-dodging and train car-diving it took to get there.
While part of me wishes Ritchie would drop the whole Sherlock façade and just make the tweedy, bare-knuckle action comedy he wants to, I know that:
a) No one would go without that name recognition, though I’d bet pennies to petticoats that maybe six people who saw the movie ever read a Sherlock story.
b) This whole strategy is just Ritchie’s way of reinventing and reinvigorating the drama.
The story goes that the first of these movies got greenlit when Joel Silver showed the studio heads a drawing of Sherlock Holmes leaning out of the shadows, holding a knife in one hand and a gun in the other. Their reaction was “oh, now we get it. Go for it!” Whereas my reaction would have been, “Sigh. Must we?”
For my money, if you want to see Sherlock Holmes done right, there’s only one place to go.