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Film Review – SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS

Venue: Cine 2
              Ster-Kinekor, Maerua Mall
Film: GAME OF SHADOWS
Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenplay:
Players: Robert Downey Jr; Jude Law; Kelly Reilly; Stephen Fry; Noomi Rapace;  Jared Harris; Rachel McAdams.
Genre: adventure; detective; historical
Rating: ****

This sequel to Ritchie’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is as richly textured as the original, packed with even more action, and the principal characters continue to delight with their quirky relationship. No-one can play Holmes like Downey Jnr: the intelligence, the whiff of hauteur, the reliance upon logic and reasoning, the original creativity, the humour are all present in this film too. Too many previous interpretations of Holmes made the character supercilious and overbearing, with excessive and stereotyped body language, much pipe-puffing, and lacking the generosity of leading the viewer through the analytical process to solve the crime.
Downey’s character is delightfully innovative. Watson’s dog, Gladstone, is again a guinea pig for various pharmacological experiments – with the usual dire results; Holmes turns his living room into a semblance of an Amazonian jungle in order to hide in the leafy foliage and dart his visitors. His propensity for disguise is extremely amusing: he is a dozing geriatric with protruding teeth in a university auditorium; he is a satin-bowed and frilled woman on a train; an Oriental opium-puffing street person, and an aged bellhop at the Hotel de Triomphe in Paris. His experiments with ‘urban camouflage’ are also very amusing.
It will be hard for any future sequel to cap the sensational plotline of this film. Critics have carped that the plot is fantastical and wispy; I personally felt that the setting of 1891 was quite appropriate for establishing the battle for hegemony in Europe between Germany and France, in the long prelude of souring relations prior to the First World War. In addition, Sherlock’s great adversary, Professor James Moriarty, was a key figure in Conan Doyle’s later stories as the battle between good and evil became focussed on these two characters.  The plot also picks up where the previous film left off, with Watson slightly detached from Holmes as his nuptials to Mary Morsten become imminent.  There is also a brief appearance of Rachel McAdams reprising her role as Ms Irene Adler, the American professional thief, whose wit and physical attractions prove alluring to Holmes. The film tackles the final battle between Holmes and Moriarty, as depicted in the novels, in which Moriarty is flung into a waterfall and his fate thereafter remains unknown.
‘Let’s crack on,” becomes a mantra between the two detectives. Regrettably, Watson is separated from his new wife prior to the wedding night when Holmes pitches her out of a moving train ‘at the right time’ for her to drop into the middle of a river, where Mycroft (Fry), his brother (described by Holmes as ‘custodian of the broom closet of the affairs of state’) is waiting with his geriatric manservant, Stanley, to pick up Mrs Watson (Reilly) and remove her to safety.
Moriarty (Harris) is ably conceived as a self-contained and self-controlled Cambridge academic, with powerful friends, such as the British Prime Minister. His cold gentility is more chilling than anything else; today we would define him as sociopathic. During their first meeting in Moriarty’s rooms at Cambridge, he tells Holmes that “My respect for you, Mr Holmes, is the only reason you’re still alive.” Holmes describes the battle between them as ‘a game of shadows’ and the symbolic representation of this is the chess set and the game they play at the climax to determine the ultimate victor. At the end of their introductory scene, there is a sudden and unexpected close-up of the black King chess piece.
The settings in the film deserve mention and commendation. Ritchie has transported us into late Victorianism, with all its class divisions and the two differing worlds of the ‘haves’ and the ’have nots’. Madame Simzer (Rapace) at her gypsy camp or the heaving streets of London both vibrate with the energy of the teeming masses. At the other end of the scale, the Paris Opera House, a dinner for politicians and diplomats, Mycroft’s stately home, or even Watson’s genteel wedding at some country church, faithfully reproduce the lives and practices of the upper echelons of society. The plot moves the reader from London to Paris, Germany to Switzerland in the course of the made dash across Europe in pursuit of Moriarty and the efforts to thwart his dastardly plans.
Cinematically, Ritchie uses two interesting techniques. Slow motion for some action sequences does allow additional dramatic impact, particularly when the heroes are under threat. While the voiceover of Holmes’ logic and ability to think ahead is offered, the camera plays out his thoughts prior to the real-time action. Cross-cutting the action from one scene to another was also harnessed effectively to heighten tension and suspense.
From gypsies to anarchists, from politicians to the boisterous male bonding at the Diogenes Club, the film is a delightful romp in which camera work, settings, plot and character interpretation combine harmoniously to invite the viewer to suspend belief and enjoy doing this for a couple of hours. The car, a dodgy prototype driven badly by Holmes, is apparently anachronistic – but who cares? When Holmes delivers Watson much the worse for wear in front of the church, the old banger, open to the elements, seems absolutely appropriate. However, Holmes’ objective, to save Western Civilization from destruction at the hands of war-mongering Moriarty is both fun and exhausting – but perhaps more exciting for Watson than his honeymoon plans for a week at Brighton.. The film, in short, is not unlike Holmes’ description of a horse: ‘dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle’.

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