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Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows – Guy’s RomCom for guys


You wanna point your gun somewhere else Sherlock?



Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows – Guy Ritchie

Arch chums take on Arch Villain


Wittgenstein said we should regard words not as things possessing meaning but as tools with which to create it. Some tools like knives and saws have general purpose application: others like screwdrivers have a specific function.

I cherish those words and tools which have just one single, solitary function: they patiently await their moment of glory when circumstances require their uniquely specialised use; where they and only they, perfectly meet the demands of the moment. Such a tool is the grapefruit knife: curved with serrated edges on both sides; if you’ve ever made a complete dog’s breakfast of trying to segment a grapefruit with a regular knife I highly recommend this rarely used, but perfectly designed miracle of breakfast preparation.

There are words which are linguistic counterparts to the grapefruit knife, modestly waiting their limelight moment to capture a single but absolutely precise thought: one of my favourites when used to describe humour – is ‘arch’. My dictionary defines this deliciously expressive and marvellously subversive little word thus: ‘self-consciously or affectedly playful or teasing.’

Game of Shadows is therefore arch: exceedingly, wilfully and relentlessly arch. Even more arch than its eponymous predecessor in the Sherlock Holmes franchise. Indeed as Jude Law and Robert Downey Jnr have decided to promote the film in character but with their own names – the resolute archness of Downey’s Sherlock and Law’s Watson effortlessly transcends fiction and the screen into a knockabout archness in interviews and chat shows.

Personally I don’t have too much trouble with this for real, or in the film, though as a source of humour it does tend to become a bit tiresome rather quickly. Some people respond more vigorously: my wife for example became increasingly restive during the Downey and Law laddish love-in on the Graham Norton show, finally remarking that it really was beginning to get on those parts of her anatomy modesty forbids me to call up in your mind in a mere review: but think little furry heads pecking their way into Tony Hancock’s golden top milk.

Truth be told it got on my tits as well.

There is plenty to enjoy in Game of Shadows: teeth-rattling music from Hans Zimmer emphatically frames (sic) every chase, volley of bullets, or spectacular explosion – of which there are many. Niall Moroney’s set is a dark, underlit, broody evocation of Victorian/Edwardian blacks and greys lacking only a wisp of fog for us to expect Jack the Ripper to turn the corner at any minute.

Ritchie’s direction substitutes for the cerebral pleasures of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock an all-action super-hero take by Downey: a cross between Iron Man and James Bond’s Granddad. Michelle and Kieran Mulrooney’s script plays up to the studied insouciance of the Sherlock/Downey, Watson/Law chemistry. As a result the film’s tone is all over the place – one minute close to farce; the next a kind of love that does not want to say its name, but enjoys hinting at it.

This Sherlock franchise is pretty much a Rom-Com for guys: that is between guys. Here Sherlock and Watson tease and bicker to conceal feelings for one another that recall some of the 1940s noirish man/woman pairings like William Powell and Myrna Loy (Thin Man) or even Tracy and Hepburn Rom-Coms. Of course as soon as we might be tempted to take this seriously, a situation or plot twist defuses the moment with an urgent distraction.

There is a fair bit of humour in this slightly out-of-kilter tone but it’s as if Robert Downey starts on a roll and just gets camper and more ‘muggy’ as time goes on. Certainly his English accent gets more ‘Streepy’ as events unwind.

A convoluted plot gets buried under this stylised playing. Arch-villain Professor Moriarty (a languidly lethal Jared Harris) having mopped up most of the available weapons now seeks to provoke a profitable World War by assassinating European ambassadors at a Peace conference in a Swiss castle perched high above the Reichenbach Falls. Moriarty has had, through plastic surgery and a truly perverse implausibility, the militant brother of Gyspy Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace) made to look like a particular ambassador so that he can infiltrate the conference and perform the assassination when the moment comes.  Rapace  is too strong for  the thin plot development she represents, but runs about purposefully looking like a Romany Indiana Jones in search of the Lost Tattoo.

When Sherly, as brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry doing Stephen Fry) calls him, and Dr John thwart the assassination, Holmes and Moriarty take up pairs diving over the balcony into the Falls below. This is a nod to the way Conan Doyle waved goodbye to a know-all detective even he was beginning to tire of.

In between there is a great deal of running about and old-time derring do with curare darts fired from loaded canes etc; and a knock-about Downey/Law show – do they don’t they, will they won’t they, mugging to camera. However Ritchie wisely maintains a relentless pace throughout so we never really have time to get bored – or to think. He leaves no technical stone unturned to keep us on board: from a very (Ma)trixy, slo-mo, stop-motion chase through a forest to lots of battles with automatic weapons surprisingly sophisticated for about 1912.

A medium-sized town’s-worth of contributors helped Ritchie produce what is an undemanding slice of fun that quite satisfactorily whiles away a couple of hours on a cold Winter’s day. To find the denouement credible one has to completely ignore the Sundance Kid’s immortal observation about height and water, but having milked this profitable little franchise twice the cynics among you will already have drawn your own conclusions about Sherly’s eventual fate. Golden gooseism is a Hollywood imperative.

For one thing though we should be grateful to Ritchie, Downey and Law: not for sounding like a firm of solicitors: but for providing a perfect opportunity to savour the absolute accuracy and appositeness of that too-long-neglected little gem of precision – ‘arch’.

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