The critical reception of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes owes more to Basil Rathbone than Robert Downey Jr.
I have never quite understood the purists who insist on Holmesian externals as the be-all and end-all, that Victorian London be picturesque, cozy and uncomplicated largely because Holmes stands like a bulwark against evil: all-knowing, all-wise, calm and collected.
Well, no. The canonical Holmes is one of the most spectacularly unstable characters in all literature, a bundle of manic energies who depends on cocaine to keep up with them—that is, when he’s not digging through the dark side of human nature, propelled by the most grotesque crimes he can ferret out. He’s arrogant, impatient, sardonic, sloppy, rude to his closest friends and the despair of his poor landlady.
In short, how exactly do you complain when he’s being played by Robert Downey Jr.? Even the normally hyper-perceptive Roger Ebert falls into this trap—objecting because he sees Holmes as always ‘immaculate’. Uh-huh. I think Ebert has seen one too many Basil Rathbone movies.