You know, just having watched my second movie in preparation for writing this blog, I have decided that along with the weekly book reviews, I’m going to discuss movies once or twice a month. Not every week, as I’m only posting three times a week, and to devote one post to a book and one to a movie would only leave one post a week for the other inane ramblings. I’ll try to make sure that each of the watching movies posts focuses on something different; I’ll be watching different genres of movies and looking for different things. If anything, last time’s focus was on the rom-com plot structure.
Today’s is on character relationships. The movie in question is Sherlock Holmes. Now, a disclaimer: the only Sherlock Holmes stories I read were when I was in middle school or high school, and yes, I know there’s been all kinds of disputes about how this doesn’t follow the traditional canon of Sherlock Holmes. Fine, well and good. That’s not what this is about. This is about the portrayal of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, because I happen to think that it’s done really well.
In a lot of movies, there’s a hero and his sidekick. That’s the same in this one. It’s almost a necessary trope, because the hero needs someone to play off of, and just throwing enemy after enemy (or situation after situation) at him gets dull after a while. You need something to break up the monotony. As Sherlock Holmes only has a dubious love interest who flits in and out of the movie, the obvious companion is Watson.
The tension in the relationship is obvious and immediate; the two are opposites and Watson is about to leave the partnership – no wonder Holmes appears to be doing everything in his power to sabotage the impending nuptials (well, first Watson has to propose to her!). But despite the conflict between them, a just-below-the-surface struggle, it’s obvious how much they care about each other, which is demonstrated quite aptly when Watson nearly gets killed.
In fact, as I watched this movie for a second time (watched it first with the family, second time for the purposes of writing this), it was the character interaction which came out more richly than the plot itself, which at times seemed a little contrived and was only interesting in the reveal at the end.
I like dialogue; I don’t know how good I am at writing it, but I can appreciate a well-written conversation, and this movie is full of them. From the conversation about having left the stove on – Holmes did – to repeated efforts to kill the dog, there’s never a dull moment when the two of them are in the scene together; the chemistry between them is obvious and engaging.
Not all movies succeed in creating character chemistry; sometimes it is the actors/actresses themselves, sometimes it is the plot and roles into which they are scripted. Here, it works. Here, I could listen to some of those conversations a dozen times over and still smile at them.
So, what am I trying to get at after this rambling?
Well, by dint of their structure, most action/adventure movies require a hero and a sidekick; the hero to do heroic things and the sidekick typically to be comic relief and/or provide the crucial bit of evidence/action/heroic sacrifice near the end. It’s reversed here; Holmes is obviously the comic one yet he’s the hero, and Watson is the sane and sober one shoved into the sidekick role. Along with the character chemistry, it takes this movie out of the realm of the typical action/adventure because there is a much more deliberate and defined human element to it (your stereotypical action/adventure has a handful of stereotyped characters who behave in particular and predictable ways in order to advance the plot).
And that’s why I liked Sherlock Holmes.