Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

In Short: The brilliant (but eccentric) detective Sherlock Holmes and his loyal (but long-suffering) partner Dr Watson, do battle with the criminal genius Professor Moriarty. Europe is on the brink of war, with anarchist elements stirring up trouble, and bombing their way into the headlines. What is Moriarty up to, and how can Holmes and Watson stop him?

Good Stuff: Sometimes, you get the impression that actors in a film turned up on the set to enjoy themselves. However, that doesn’t always coincide with a desire to have the audience participate in the enjoyment. But in this film, the cast, the setting, the script, and the camera work all come together to deliver top notch entertainment for the audience. Holmes is not the thinking detective of other incarnations, leaving the dirty work to others; this Holmes is a hands-on, full throttle, fighter – and one of considerable skill and imagination. This definitely helps draw viewers into the film. Robert Downey Jr is great in the role, offering the right platform for the cocktail of intelligence, combativeness and indulgence the character displays. Don’t discount Watson, however; he is equally handy at the rough stuff. And Jude Law’s intense performance is such that you see a rounded character, and almost believe he really is upset with Holmes at various points.

It’s action all the way, peppered with humorous asides, plot twists and tension. The fight scenes are terrific, with a couple of nicely choreographed stunts, and the kind of slow motion film work that prolongs the enjoyment. It’s by no means all fighting, and the film does a quite good job of delivering some thoughtful detective work to stand alongside it. There’s one especially chilling scene in which Moriarty meets Irene Adler (a female baddie for whom Holmes has some feelings) in a busy, high class tea room, which is a real gem and adds to the atmosphere of real danger. And the pacing is excellent, with nary a dull moment in the two hours the film runs for.

Jared Harris (son of the late Richard Harris) plays Moriarty, and does an excellent job. He is calm, cool, calculating and collected. But in a second, he can turn a special kind of nasty that hints at the true depths of his evil. And Moriarty’s hitman, Colonel Sebastian Moran, (played by Paul Aunderson) is equally good.

The Not So Good Stuff: I wasn’t that convinced by the performance of Noomi Rapace, (as Madam Simza Heron) but to be fair to her, maybe the plot didn’t give her too many chances to compete with the main players. I also wonder how much she was handicapped by Heron being portrayed as a Gypsy; perhaps she felt restrained by the cultural baggage and wanted to avoid suggestions of racial stereotyping. While the plot might not work without her, it did not shine because of her. And, I don’t understand why they introduced an early motor-car into the London scenes. Apart from being historically suspect, it added nothing. And I think there’s one loose end. Maybe the answer to these latter points lies on the cutting room floor. However, none of the preceding factors were significant.

Query: Why are there so few good films about Sherlock Holmes?