Robert Downey, Jr. - Sherlock Holmes, Action Hero
Robert Downey, Jr. and me at Madame Tussauds London
To date over one hundred actors have portrayed Sherlock Holmes in film, on television, stage or radio and each version has been different. It's as if his character is so complex, each new writer must focus on only a part and each new actor adds his own nuances to bring the famous detective to life. In this blog series we're going to look at six very different actors who have portrayed Sherlock Holmes. Our first subject under the lens is Robert Downey, Jr.
Thus far Robert has portrayed Sherlock in Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), both set in Victorian London. Sherlock Holmes 3 is still in the writing stage, but with Robert as Sherlock, Guy Ritchie onboard as director and Jude Law rumored to be returning as Dr. Watson, the stage is set for another blockbuster action movie.
Robert's Sherlock is gritty, physical, and engages in slapstick humor. Master of Baritsu, a bare knuckled martial art, he fights in competition matches for fun. At the very top of his physical form, he dodges explosions, jumps out of windows, and balances on the side of a speeding train. One key technical element in these films is the invention of Holmes-o-vision. We see through Sherlock’s eyes, in slow motion, his deduction of how the next action sequence will develop. Then we’re jolted back to reality and treated to the success or failure of his predictions. Things don’t always go his way.
Robert's Sherlock is also a master of slapstick humor. In a gun battle aboard the train, Sherlock, dressed as a woman, drops his friend’s new wife out the carriage door, off a bridge, and into the water for Mycroft to rescue. Mary safely out of the way, Sherlock drags Watson to the floor seconds before a Gatling gun shatters the train’s compartments. Then he lies beside his friend calmly smoking a pipe and discussing their next move amidst the flying debris.
The flat that Sherlock and Watson share at 221B Baker Street is no more peaceful. Sherlock uses their home as a shooting range when he tries to develop a silencer for his pistol, a jungle to confound Watson, and a dark and dusty place where he practices camouflaging himself to blend into his surroundings. He has the uncanny habit of leaping out of nowhere when least expected.
Sherlock’s costumes are eclectic, eccentric, and at times flamboyant. I’ve already mentioned his disguise as a woman. He also becomes a Chinese man and a one-eyed beggar with an enormous putty nose. At one point Irene Adler ties Sherlock to a bed where he sits naked and cross-legged with only a decorative pillow strategically placed for modesty. He proves quite a surprise for the chambermaid.
Sherlock’s relationship with Jude Law’s Watson is adversarial. They are often like bickering mates who have known and put up with each other for years. This Watson is a military doctor, and rather straight laced, if we discount his stag night. He's disapproving of Sherlock’s slothful existence between cases and his problematic history of drug usage. This Sherlock teeters between experimenting with adrenaline for an extreme high to drinking embalming fluid for a new low. Jude is taller than Robert’s Sherlock, and very British. Robert is actually the shortest Sherlock in this series, standing at three and a half inches below six feet and he’s not British, but employs enough of an accent to sound so.
At any rate, it all works wonderfully and gives us a new version of our favorite consulting detective. Robert Downey, Jr.’s portrayal of the legendary Sherlock Holmes is exciting, fun, and thoroughly delightful. Bravo, Robert, well done.