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Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

A Game of Shadows

Robert Downey Jr. returns as Sherlock Holmes

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The bomb that blew the top hats off the crowd was branded as the work of anarchists by the papers hawked on the London streets of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The great detective, however, discerns a more sinister hand behind the wave of terrorism sweeping across Europe. Holmes' sharp, bloodhound's nose for finding and tracking clues, coupled with a brilliant acumen for seeing patterns behind apparently disconnected events, leads him to the door of his evil opposite, Professor Moriarty.

A Game of Shadows
is that rarity, a sequel better than what preceded it. Director Guy Ritchie tramped down the ludicrous pyrotechnic overkill in favor of a story Arthur Conan Doyle could almost have written. Of course, the main reason to see the 2009 Sherlock Holmes as well as A Game of Shadows is the stellar performance by Robert Downey Jr. Playing Holmes as a disheveled dandy, slightly larger than life like the Conan Doyle character, Downey is febrile yet focused, crazy-eyed but compassionate. Living on coffee and coca leaves, which perhaps explains his abrupt and tightly wound manner, Holmes dashes through a series of high-wire encounters with Moriarty, played by Jared Harris as a most unappealing villain—a genius with bad complexion, a sniggering man who is a master criminal, an agent of moral chaos and a ruthless investor. Buying up the industries that make the bullets as well as the bandages, Moriarty hopes to make a killing, as they say on Wall Street, by provoking a world war. Lacking Downey's charisma, Harris gives a capable performance that never threatens to draw attention from the star.

Ritchie edits a few scenes with Hitchcock's sure hand for visually advancing the plot. More often, though, he relies on supersonic flash editing, especially the whirl-and-blur fight scenes where Holmes clobbers Moriarty's henchmen (and takes a pounding himself). Although it already looks so late last century, Ritchie also deploys lots of Matrix-style slow motion. But with its easy mix of humor, drama and action, A Game of Shadows isn't far from the spirit of those Basil Rathbone Holmes movies from the 1940s—if they had been shot on a big budget, in color and with special effects yet to be invented.


Sadly, Jude Law is no Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, but merely a handsome potted plant moved from one scene to another. Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander from the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy) plays the Gypsy fortuneteller who joins forces with Holmes and adds a jolt of Victorian girl power to the story. Will A Game of Shadows mark the last time Downey plays the great sleuth? Remember, even Conan Doyle couldn't kill Sherlock Holmes.