Monday, April 2, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows -- bullets and bandages

Director: Guy Ritchie, 2011. (PG-13) 

Bullets and bandages. These tie the movie to the theme of conflict which I’ll interact with. But hold that thought for now.  

Guy Ritchie introduced his interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in 2009 in a marvelously fun feature starring Robert Downey Jr as the legendary detective and Jude Law as his sidekick, Dr. Watson. He reprises the characters with the same actors in a longer and less fun film, this one even bearing a subtitle: Game of Shadows. And it is a game of shadows. The biggest problem with this film is that discovering the plot is a game of shadows. It takes far too long, almost till the end of act 2 to figure out really what’s going on. What saves the day is the renewed chemistry between Holmes and Watson.

Like the first film, Downey Jr and Law play off each other like an old married couple. Their banter, begun before, continues at a higher level this time and it is fun enough to keep us watching even while we are wondering if the film is going anywhere. And before anyone gets the idea that perhaps Holmes and Watson are a couple of gay guys, Ritchie throws in two female love interests, one for each.

For Holmes, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, Midnight in Paris) reappears as the intrepid American who can play both sides off against each other. Sadly, though, she disappears even before the opening credits. By the end of the lengthy prologue she has died, and with her goes any hopes Holmes may have of a romance. But he is so focused on an international intrigue that no one else has spotted and that cause the end of civilization as he knows it, that he needs no distractions.

Watson, on the other hand, is getting married to Mary (Kelly Reilly), a fact that has slipped Holmes’ mind. Watson is happy to be distracted and away from Holmes’ adventures and mysteries. He wants nothing more than to go on his honeymoon with his new honey.

Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris, son of the late Richard Harris) has other plans. Holmes’ evil arch-nemesis schemes and plots, but in a distinctly gentlemanly manner, befitting a university don. Yet Harris plays him in too genteel of a way. His evil is unbelievable. The intellect is clear, but he does not command the screen as a compelling villain.

Stephen Fry appears as Holmes’ brother Mycroft, but has little to do. He is mostly wasted in what could have been a terrific support. Noomi Rapace, the star of the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, features prominently as Madam Simza Heron, a gypsy fortune teller who is seeking her brother who is involved somehow in Moriarty’s schemes.

Once again Ritchie uses excessive bullet-time slow-motion to portray Holmes’ excessive intellect, as he thinks through all his moves and countermoves. He does this in several one-on-one fights, and also in an extended artillery attack on Holmes and his friends. This makes the film a stylish action comedy, like its predecessor.

Yet, it is the acting and banter of the two male leads that carry the film. One scene in particular, the funniest in the film, highlights this. When Watson goes off with Mary by train for their honeymoon in a first-class carriage, Holmes dresses as a woman to surreptitiously protect them. Once he has tossed Mary from the train the movie really kicks into gear and the plot begins to slowly unfold.

That brings us to the quote that one of the characters declares: “People have an innate desire for conflict. So what you’re fighting is not me, but rather mankind. War, on an industrial scale, is inevitable. I’m just supplying the bullets and bandages.” The message posited is that conflict is part of human nature. Is that true?

Human nature, as intended from the beginning when God created humanity (Gen. 1), desires peace and relationships. God made us to enjoy him. He made woman to relate to man (Gen. 2). Peace prevailed; conflict was missing. So, the innate desire of mankind unspoiled is not conflict.

But humanity was spoiled when the serpent’s temptation was taken (Gen. 3). Sin entered the world. Mankind fell. And from that moment, conflict ensued: conflict between the man and woman, between ongoing generations, and between tribes and nations.

Conflict, though, is not an innate desire of mankind. The broken and sin-tainted nature of humanity veers towards the self away from God. Selfishness is the innate desire of humanity. And selfishness of one person vies against the selfishness of others. This is what leads to conflict. I want what I want, but you are in the way so I want to get you out of my way. Some choose to face this conflict with words, even with manipulations. Others use sheer power. Such conflict edges towards violence, and of that violence is war.

So, in some sense, the speaker is right: war is inevitable. And we see that across the globe, as we face ongoing military conflict. As of this writing, there is war in Libya, Yemem, Syria and Sudan, with other smaller conflicts in Africa and parts of the Middle East and Latin America. The solution is not more bullets, which lead inevitably to more bandages. The solution is a fundamental change of heart resulting from meeting Jesus Christ. He has predicted the omnipresence of war until the end-times (Matt. 24:6), but he also promises peace (Jn. 14:27), a peace that cannot be bettered in the world. Such peace passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). This is a peace that will transform the world, making bullets and bandages unnecessary. But this omnipresent peace will only be fully realized when Jesus returns to usher in his everlasting kingdom. At that time the nations “will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isa. 2:4).

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review of the movie :)

    Have you read the book "Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes" by David Stuart Davies. This book is a must read for fans of the Granada adaptation and/or Jeremy Brett.