MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Sherlock Holmes, Into Temptation

Sherlock Holmes (Three Stars)
U.S.; Guy Ritchie, 2009

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fog-bound, spellbinding adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson were among the magical books of my childhood. The game’s afoot! “Elementary, my dear Watson.” The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. I even invented my own counterfeit Holmes and Watson — called Nicholas Spencer and Omar Atkins — and starred them in a series of adventures, written from the third grade on. Ah, as the Sherlockians say, though he could be more humble, there’s no police like Holmes!Here, whether we like it or not, we have a sort of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, thrust by Guy Ritchie into a spectacular cliffhanger adventure yarn that might seem more appropriate for Batman and Robin or the incredible Fu Manchu. As played, rather eccentrically but likeably by Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, Holmes and Watson are joined by Rachel MacAdams as that woman Irene Adler, and they all race around London, kicking and kung-fuing away, battling supernatural villains, throttling giants, knocking over and pre-launching ships, swinging from crumbling, half-erected towers and otherwise proving that, in the world of Hollywood and Guy Ritchie, nothing is elementary.

The movie starts absurdly, with Downey’s unshaven and slovenly Holmes (cocaine?) somersaulting and drop-kicking a bad guy. But soon Downey, who projects as much intelligence as any current Hollywood star, begins cracking some Sherlockian riddles with dexterity, deducing whole reams of biography from a mud stain or two, and proving that he’s not just a pretty face or a martial arts head-banger. Law is a little acerbic for my taste; he’s so rough with Holmes, he seems to be in charge of his pal’s drug rehabilitation. And MacAdams manages to resemble Joan Collins’ skinnier niece, while suggesting also the very talents that allegedly won Joan the nickname The British Open.

The movie is astonishingly well-designed and stunningly photographed (by Philippe Rousselot), and I actually think it’s Richie’s best picture. But that only goes to show how little I liked the others (Lock, Stock excepted). However good Downey and Law may be at times, the memories of Basil Rathbone’s Holmes and Nigel Bruce’s Watson are in no danger. Nor is the stature of Billy Wilder’s unhappily compromised and mutilated The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. It’s a shame though that we never saw Wilder’s original choices for the roles of Holmes and Watson: Peter O’Toole and Peter Sellers.


Into Temptation (Two and a Half Stars)
U. S.; Patrick Coyle

John Buerlein, an unshaven, hip, weary young Catholic pastor (played by Jeremy Sisto) , working too hard at St. Mary Magdalen’s Downtown Catholic Church in Minneapolis, hears a jarring confession, about her own impending suicide, from a young masseuse (Kristin Chenoweth). Though he’s barely seen the hooker Linda, and doesn’t know her name, he succumbs to temptation, and descends into the world of prostitution and sex for sale, to try to find and save her. Salvation, however is never easy, grace always elusive.

A trifle over-pat and slow, but well-written and extremely well-acted, this Minneapolis regional film by Patrick Coyle (Detective Fiction), who is a local film and TV actor-writer-director and also artistic director of Minneapolis’s Original Theater Company head, is an admirable, smart independent movie. All the acting is fine, especially Brian Baumgartner (a Minnesotan as well as Office cast member) as Father John’s own father confessor, Ralph, Ansa Akyea as an ex-fighter/guide to the underworld, and Coyle himself as a worshipful accountant-client of Linda’s.
The movie could use more surprise, edge and real pain. But Coyle works well in the realist-idealist vein of Kazan, Mulligan and Lumet, and it’s a pleasure to watch his, and his ensemble’s, skill, invention and aspiration.

– Michael Wilmington
December 24, 2009

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