With his 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, out on DVD today, Robert Downey, Jr. joins a long line of distinguished and, hmmm, sometimes odd, actors to play Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous detective. The first name that comes up is Basil Rathbone, who many consider the definitive Sherlock, making 14 movies over seven years in the 1940s. But there have also been screen and stage performance by John Gielgud, John Cleese, Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, Peter Lawford, and John Barrymore, Peter O'Toole and Leonard Nimoy.
And now there's Robert Downey, Jr. (who took home a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical). Set in 1891 London, Sherlock Holmes opens with the detective and his ever-present side-kick Dr. John Watson (played by Jude Law) preventing the latest of a series of ritualized murders. Holmes later visits the killer in prison and the condemned man tells the detective that three more deaths are about to happen, but these three deaths will change the world.
The rest of the film follows the two as they race around uncovering political conspiracies, the occult, secret societies and a man who seems to rise from his grave to kill his former compatriots.
Sherlock Holmes is director Guy Ritchie's biggest success to date, earning $205.5 million. Its easy to see why -- along with the youthful, unexpected casting, the addition of violence by Holmes (who in prior movies just outsmarts the criminals instead of beating them to a pulp), the sizzling chemistry between Downy and Law onscreen (could you guys just kiss already?) and Ritchie's exploration of little-known aspects of the characters. Watson is much more of a womanizer; Holmes is twitchier than ever before. Downey, an intelligent if sometimes sardonic actor, seems a little smarter than Holmes. If Ritchie had let him go just a little wilder, Sherlock Holmes might have gone from entertaining to exceptional, but even reined in a little, he gives a great performance.
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In case you want to pick up a few other March releases, we suggest The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day starring Sean Patrick Flanery as a wonderfully violent brute who wants to clean up his neighborhood. Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story, didn't earn too much, just a dinky $14.3 million, but it's still required viewing for those who lean left in their politics. Precious, starring Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'nique, who took home both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her performance, is on the shelves along with Men Who Stare at Goats, starring Ewan McGregor, about a mind control experiment.