Monday, March 14, 2011

The Seven Per-Cent Solution (1976)

Starring Alan Arkin, Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall, Laurence Olivier
Directed by Herbert Ross
Rated PG
Based on the novel by Nicolas Meyer

Warning: These reviews are highly opinion based and will contain spoilers.

Doctor Watson returns to find Sherlock Holmes on a cocaine binge, raving about his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty, whom Watson learns is a well to do professor who is frightened by Holmes persecution. Watson plots a scheme to lure Holmes into the care of Dr. Sigmund Freud in order to cure Holmes of his addictive obbession.

The first act is well written and well filmed with some hallucinogenic POV shots to show Holmes struggling withdrawl, but its also painfully slow. The acting is great, Alan Arkin as Sigmund Freud steals the show with every scene he’s in. You can tell a lot of care was given to make his character feel authentic and historically accurate. Unfortunately he gets more character development than Holmes and serves Watson’s role for the later half the movie, sadly robbing Robert Duvall a chance to shine. Its odd that Freud is the one who has the heroic final confrontation with the villain and saves the lady, rather than Holmes. While Holmes isn’t especially known for these "action hero" traits, it only highlights how this isn't a really a Sherlock Holmes story.

Speaking of qualities associated with Holmes, the first half of the movie is about his recovery, we don’t actually get any sort of “mystery” until the one-hour mark, which also happens to be halfway through the film! There isn’t much suspense because the villain is established fairly early on, and his role as the bad guy couldn’t be more obvious. 

Things pick up in the third act. The railway chase is exciting because of the determination and ingenuity of the characters, but the final confrontation is a bit anticlimactic. Holmes has a sword fight on top of a moving train, which sounds good on paper, but with a dated rear projection effect, it looks a bit goofy. Freud is the one to who stares down the bad guy in a short, bloodless showdown that while efficient and in keeping with character, isn’t terribly exciting for the modern viewer.

Then comes the second conclusion. Freud puts Holmes into a trance and learns that everything about Holmes' life is do to his discovery that his mother was sleeping around with his tutor ,Professor Moriarty. Then Holmes witnessed his father shoot his mother out of revenge. This is why Holmes pursued a field that would allow him to “punish the wicked”, and is also why he thinks of Moriarty as his nemesis and views women as “untrustworthy creatures”.

This reveal bothers me for a number of reasons. The first of which being that the incident molded Holmes' life to “punish the wicked”. It seems that in Hollywood, your entire life, especially your career choice is shaped by a single traumatic childhood incident. If you're a doctor in Hollywood, its because someone close to you died when you were young. Apparently no one goes into a field simply because they’re interested in it, or talented in a certain area of study. I always saw Holmes as someone who pursued criminology for the intellectual challenge since in his time it was still a developing field of science, rather than for the sake of justice. He has a keen mind, but he isn’t Frank Miller’s "Goddamn Batman"

Then there’s Moriarty. If his affair with Mrs. Holmes was responsible for her death, why would he still be in London? Wouldn’t he be haunted by the memory of the incident assuming Holmes Senior didn’t try to hunt him down? Also wouldn’t have his reputation be ruined by the scandal of being involved in an extramarital affair and a homicide? If he really did get away from the scene scot free, he should have changed his name and left the country. 

Finally, and perhaps most irritating, Holmes distrust of women, rooted in his mother sleeping around. In this interpretation, Holmes seems to be distrusting of women as a whole. This is very much at odds with Holmes' nature: to observe and to never assume, and yet here he has a predisposition against half the population.

Bottom line, I like the way it is written with focus on character development as well as the depiction of historical figures such as Sigmund Freud as well as numerous references to other Holmes stories. I was not at all surprised to learn that this was adapted from a tribute novel because the pace lends itself better to a book than a motion picture. It is well researched, intelligently written and superbly acted, but the pace is glacial and the big reveal at the end unwound so much of the quality it had going for it.

Final Score: 
2 1/2 out of 5.

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