Robert Downey Jr. Brings a New Look to 'Sherlock Holmes'
by Jonathan Crow May 20, 2009
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes The first look at director Guy Ritchie's hotly anticipated "Sherlock Holmes" is out. And like this month's "Star Trek," this flick looks set to add some rocket fuel to a time-worn franchise. The first ever Sherlock Holmes movie hit the silver screen in 1900, a mere five years after the advent of cinema. Since then, there has been about a hundred incarnations of the super sleuth in both TV and the movies. Yet for many, Basil Rathbone's portrayal remains the Sherlock Holmes gold standard. Aristocratic, cerebral, and perhaps a bit stuffy, he is probably what you think of when you think of the legendary detective. Everything in this new trailer -- from slick camera effects, to the "Pirates of the Caribbean"-style soundtrack, to the casting of Robert Downey Jr. -- makes it clear that Ritchie has no interest in making another Rathbone clone. Instead, Ritchie goes back to the scrappy Holmes of the original books. Here are five ways the new movie breaks with interpretations of Sherlock Holmes from the past. Not a Deerstalker Hat in Sight
Not a Deerstalker Hat in Sight Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock HolmesThat tweed double-billed hat that Sherlock Holmes made famous was never actually in any of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. And it's nowhere to be found in the trailer. In fact, there is little sign of the other iconic objects associated with the master sleuth: no U-tube-shaped calabash pipe, no magnifying glass, and no tweed. Instead, Sherlock sports a fedora rakishly flipped up front. But this isn't the only divergence from the popular image of the detective. Holmes also looks rumbled, sweaty, and unshaven, like he spent the night under a bridge. Even his loyal sidekick Watson complains about his "general lack of hygiene." This is, of course, a far cry from the gentlemanly bearing of Rathbone. In the books, however, Holmes described himself as a "Bohemian." No word if Ritchie is going to include another Bohemian trait from the original stories: Holmes' regular abuse of opiates. A Non-English Holmes
A Non-English Holmes Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes Robert Downey Jr. isn't the first American to play Holmes -- Matt Frewer and Charlton Heston (of all people) has played the detective in the past -- but this is definitely the highest profile Holmes to be played by a Yank. In fact, Guy Ritchie was initially reluctant to hire Downey Jr., thinking that he was too old for the part. But Susan Downey, who produced Ritchie's last movie "RocknRolla" along with "Sherlock Holmes," thought otherwise and managed to convince the director. She also happens to be married to Robert Downey Jr. Strip away the English accent, and the logic does become apparent. Both Downey and Holmes are brilliant, kind of crazy, and more than a little free-spirited. A Thin Watson
A Thin Watson Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes The casting of Jude Law as Watson is perhaps an even bigger departure from the classic cinematic Holmes. In the Rathbone movies, Watson (played by Nigel Bruce) was a rotund, bumbling comic foil. Law looks more like the original conception of Holmes' BFF -- a talented doctor and a formable street fighter. Also in the trailer is Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler. In the books, Holmes and Watson had little use for women in general, but Adler earned grudging respect from the detective after she outwitted him. In the movie, she not only bests him, but leaves him in a compromising position. Brains AND Brawn
Brains AND Brawn Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock HolmesSherlock shows more than a little brawn to go with this legendary brain. In the trailer, he's seen duking it out in a bare-fisted boxing match. Plus, he goes mano-a-mano with a sledgehammer-wielding giant and corset-bedecked Irene Adler. In the books, Holmes was a master of a little-known (but real) British martial arts called Baru, which taught a gentleman how to defend one's self using, among other things, a walking cane and bowler hat. It's a Guy Ritchie Movie
It's a Guy Ritchie Movie Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock HolmesThis movie might be set during the height of the Victorian era, but that one slo-mo shot of Holmes decking some guy in the face tells you immediately that this is still a Guy Ritchie flick. And Ritchie clearly hasn't lost his love of the canted angles, frenetic editing, and muted colors that made his early movies -- like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" -- stand out. One can guess, though, that Madonna's involvement in this outing with be minimal.
"Sherlock Holmes" doesn't arrive in theaters until Christmas Day. Then & Now: Robert Downey Jr. Brings a New Look to 'Sherlock Holmes'