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Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Premise: A sequel to the 2009 film. Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) attempt to uncover the plot being laid by the mysterious Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris).

What Works: Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Sherlock Holmes and Watson and the two continue their enjoyable odd couple relationship. This film has some fun with the characters, inserting a lot of homoerotic subtext that makes for some good humor and allows for an emotional connection between the men. Given the other problems in the film, this is vitally important to making A Game of Shadows watchable since there is very little else in the film to engage the viewer. Also watchable, although underutilized, is Jared Harris as Moriarty. He is quite menacing but in a very quiet way. Harris’ slow and deliberate delivery of his lines and restrained body language make him an effective counterpoint to Robert Downey Jr.’s more kinetic performance as Holmes.

What Doesn’t: A Game of Shadows suffers from a lot of the same flaws as the previous Sherlock Holmes film. In fact, it makes a lot of those flaws worse. First, the film privileges action sequences over detective work. There is nothing wrong with the action adventure approach but Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be a detective and the script includes very little detective work. What passes for observation and deduction is usually a rapid series of shots in which Holmes decides which bad guy he is going to punch in the face first. This seems to be an outgrowth of fundamental flaws with the script, which does not give Holmes a coherent goal. The film sets Holmes and Moriarty in a direct conflict but it reverses the typical protagonist and antagonist relationship. In most stories the protagonist wants something and the antagonist stands in his way. In A Game of Shadows it is Moriarty who wants something and it is Holmes that is going to stand in his way. That is a problem because it results in a hero who acts without any motivation and the story is boring because there is nothing at stake for the audience to make an emotional investment in. The filmmakers of Game of Shadows insert action sequences as an attempt to fill this narrative vacuum but that doesn’t work. Action scenes must serve the story by dramatizing the struggle between hero and villain but there is nothing in the story for anyone to actually fight over. Second, the action scenes are poorly shot and edited together. It is very hard to follow the action and a lot of these scenes don’t make any sense. Director Guy Ritchie shows off his ability to compose impressive individual shots by manipulating the speed of the film and picking unique angles, but none of these parts add up to a whole that is meaningful or even intelligible. There are a number of other flaws in the film as well. Noomi Rapace is wasted as a gypsy woman who tags long with Holmes and Watson; she literally sits through entire scenes without contributing anything or even saying a word. The film also has a lot of plot holes and relies on coincidence, and this is especially egregious given that the film is supposed to be a detective story.

Bottom Line: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is not very good either as an action film or as a detective story. The script is too flawed, the mystery is too dull, and the action scenes are too sloppy.

Episode: #369 (December 25, 2011)