The fictional struggle between the famed detective Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, was created in December of 1893 by Scottish author Arthur Conan Doyle. Depicting both as geniuses who exemplify the best and worst of human beings, Holmes is a man of physical and moral courage while Moriarty is a narcissistic egomaniac without empathy or compassion. As a sociopathic genius, Moriarty is obsessed with obtaining wealth and power and does not care who dies in the process. Doyle's original tale was a short story titled "The Final Problem," which is the basis for Guy Ritchie's second Holmes film: "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows."
This version of their story is written for the screen by Michele and Kieran Mulroney and captures the English and European culture of the 19th century. The relationship between Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his partner, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) is central to the tale as Holmes' genius borders on psychosis while Watson's medical care provides a balancing presence. Preparing to get married, Watson has decided to stop assisting Holmes in his crime-fighting obsession just when his struggle with Moriarty has reached its peak. But instead, Moriarty uses Watson to attempt to defeat Holmes.
What is fascinating about this tale is that it is more of a game between competitors than a struggle between good and evil. That is not to say the professor is not evil, because he is. But the chess-like machinations are as much about confusing and defeating Holmes as they are about throwing Europe into war so that Moriarty can get rich. This deadly competition is presented not only as their struggle, but also as the struggle of nations who will inevitably go to war against one another.
In addition to these three central characters, Holmes' love interest, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) and Watson's fianceé, Mary (Kelly Reilly), provide the two options such men often choose. Irene is a charming criminal who is attracted to Holmes, which adds to his obsession, while Mary is a proper lady who provides Watson with the opportunity for a normal life. Introduced into this mix is a gypsy fortune-teller named Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace) whose courage and dedication to her family combines qualities of both.
The intrigue of the tale is enhanced by slow action special effects that not only reveal the deductive powers of Holmes and Moriarty, but also showcase the athletic skills required by their deadly game. A well-told tale, the moral message that sacrifice is required to defeat evil has been proven throughout history.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. A strength of the film is that every clue necessary to understand how Holmes solves his cases is also provided to the viewer. Were you able to deduce in advance the actions or were you surprised by the unfolding of events?
2. The attraction that Holmes and Irene had for one another was deadly. Do you think Holmes was calloused in his expression of his loss or appropriate to his character? Why do you answer as you do?
3. It is not easy to see evil prosper, and yet it is true that Moriarty didn't have to start a war to make a profit on his various companies that would supply the weapons and materials to fight that war. The nations would, in fact, go to war anyway. What do you think it is within human beings that causes us to behave in this way?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.