(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 31 December, 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/game-of-shadows/348577.html)
Cast: Robert Downey Junior, Jude Law, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Paul Anderson, Noomi Rapace, Kelly Reilly, Rachel McAdams
Director: Guy Ritchie
Rating: 3 stars
More and more these days, I find myself wondering whether films are being dumbed-down in the interest of box office returns. And A Game of Shadows, the second edition of Guy Ritchie’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, only reiterates that notion. Ritchie’s Tarantinoesque tactic of saying more by what he doesn’t show takes a backseat here.
It was obvious from the 2009 film that the makers did not expect viewers to be in the least familiar with Holmes’ cases. Irene Adler’s role was simplified into the-one-that-got-away, not professionally, but romantically. Professor Moriarty was introduced, elucidated, and contextualised.
Those who like both Arthur Conan Doyle and Guy Ritchie willingly divorced the two versions, and enjoyed the slow-mo and sepia tones. But whereas Sherlock Homes was stylised, A Game of Shadows is swashbuckling. It’s predictable and implausible by turns; sometimes, simultaneously. While I wouldn’t say it fails to entertain, it doesn’t have the gripping quality that made its predecessor likeable, for all its flaws.
If the first film was Robert Downey Junior’s space to say, “Look, ladies and gentlemen, I have shed the flab”, this one lets him announce, “Look, boys and girls, I do the best wide-eyed-duh-looks in Hollywood barring Michael Richards, even when I’m playing a detective whose pipe Mensa can’t smoke.” Mixed up in the growing-up tale of Jude Law’s Dr. Watson, who gets considerably more screen time arriving at non-elementary inferences here, is an attempt to portray the human side of Holmes, as if to tell us, “Hey, look, we didn’t entirely waste Robert Downey Junior here.”
But if one thinks he was wasted, one ought to spare a thought for Stephen Fry, who plays Mycroft. Fans of Actor Fry and Writer Fry will be sorely disappointed at the poor use he has been put to. I mean, this is the guy whose take on his homosexuality is: “As I was being born...I looked up at my mother and said ‘that's the last time I’m going up one of those’.” And here, he references his own and the Holmes brothers’ sexual orientation by making cracks about how he can nearly comprehend affections for someone of Mary Watson’s gender, as he struts about naked, in a sequence that reminded me unfavourably of Austin Powers.
The script seeks to bolster its infantile gags with kitschy humour; but the actors themselves sound embarrassed to be mouthing lines like, “It’s so overt, it’s covert” and “Why would I want anything with a mind of its own bobbing between my legs?” Worse, a scene where Watson and Holmes tuck into hedgehog goulash is killed when Watson makes Holmes explain a one-liner, so that everyone will understand.
It gets so bad that, at one point, you begin to hope all the clarification is to enable the...umm, intellectually challenged to salvage something from a film with a complicated plot; but then the characters go on to show us the ropes, weave by weave too. In fact, more time is spent on illumination than deduction in this action drama.
Which brings me to the action – we’re used to the anachronisms, so I’ll think of the machine guns and modern typewriters as a device. But what remains unforgiveable is the denigration of Mycroft to a Sherlock henchman, especially when this Sherlock is outsmarted several times by Moriarty. And when action-hero Sherlock tries to be opium-aided-zen Sherlock, it is ridiculously incongruous.
The pandering to those in the audience who’re not sure whether Sherlock was a character, or a poison downed by Socrates, continues into the last scene. While the disguise is enjoyable, one feels it would have worked better as the first scene of a sequel, if there’s going to be one.
Comparing the two Ritchie films, everything that was true of Sherlock Holmes stands – mesmerising art direction, lovely music by Hans Zimmer – and there’s the additional draw of awe-inducing cinematography. But I wonder whether a film, especially one from the Guy Ritchie stable, is well-made if I’m listing its pros and cons.
The Final Verdict: Game of Shadows is not a bad movie in that it keeps you engaged for more than 2 hours; but it probably ought not to have been a Sherlock Holmes movie.