After directing three duds in a row- RocknRolla, Revolver, and Swept Away, it’s an understatement to say Guy Ritchie needs a hit!
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23 Dec 2009 - 10:50 AM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:08 PM

The English director is betting on a radical new interpretation of the iconic sleuth to revive his flagging career.

After directing three duds in a row- RockNRolla, Revolver and Swept Away- it's an understatement to say Guy Ritchie needs a hit, 11 years after his breakthrough Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

The director is counting on Sherlock Holmes, his audacious new version of the Victorian-era detective, to restore his reputation. If Ritchie was feeling nervous about how audiences will respond to his first major studio film for Warner Bros., which cost $US80 million, after toiling on modestly-budgeted British movies, he wasn't showing it.

“Zeroes is zeroes, right? I've found them less intimidating as I've gotten older, if it's a million or 10 million or 100 million, I'm not sure if the pressure feels any different,” he told ComingSoon.net. “You just seem to have more friends when it's 100 million. I suppose in that sense you have a greater responsibility, but then you have greater muscularity too, but the studio was very supportive in what they saw as a filmmaker's idea, a filmmaker's film.”

Ritchie would have been encouraged by the box-office pundits who are predicting Sherlock Holmes will rake in around $US48 million in its opening weekend in the US after its December 25 launch, which would place it just behind the second weekend of Avatar.

The movie follows Robert Downey Jr's Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson (Jude Law) as they pursue Satanic serial killer Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), who returns from the grave and pursues his plans for global domination. Rachel McAdams plays Irene Adler, Holmes ex-girlfriend and frequent adversary, and Eddie Marsan is Scotland Yard's incompetent Inspector Lestrade.

Traditionalists may quibble with Downey's portrayal of the super-sleuth as a hyperactive, manic depressive action hero, who's introduced as a bare-knuckle prize-fighter. But Ritchie insists his film is faithful to the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels.

The director first got a taste of Holmes at boarding school when Doyle's stories were piped into the students' dormitories as a reward for good behaviour. “I built up a mental image from back then,” he told The Times. “I liked the idea that you had a guy who could think and act. Obviously, we've bigged up the physicality somewhat, though I don't think that's an inappropriate or an unfair interpretation.”

Ritchie notes that he and Downey had a common vision of how Holmes should be portrayed, and he only had to rein in the famously hands-on actor a few times. It was an enjoyable experience too for Downey, who says, “We're basically two reformed thugs who were somehow picked to reinvigorate this ultra-iconoclastic character. Guy really knows how to tell a story. He's done complex storytelling very well, and he's got a great visual sense. I think that between that stuff and Jude Law and I really, really becoming very close-knit in our preparation for this, we've got Rachel McAdams playing the diva adventuress. We just had a great cast and we had a fantastic time shooting it.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Ritchie nominates Revolver (pictured) as his favourite work, although the saga of the gambler and the devious casino owner starring Jason Statham and Ray Liotta grossed just $6.8 million worldwide.

And he seems unapologetic about Swept Away, the unmitigated disaster starring Madonna, whom he divorced a year ago, reportedly walking away with a settlement of £50 million. “Swept Away was always going to have a limited audience,” he insists. “The idea was that it was going to be a small film, but you can't do small films with the ex.”

RockNRolla opened at No. 1 in the UK but fast ran out of legs, didn't succeed in the US and ended up earning $25.7 million worldwide. He sees the transition from those films to the big-budget Holmes as “a natural segue, going small to large, but still maintaining an English identity,” adding, “It was good having deep pockets; I never had deep pockets before.”"

Even before filming began, producer Joel Silver was boasting that he envisions Sherlock Holmes as a lucrative franchise. The movie ends with a reference to Holmes' nemesis Moriarty, suggesting he'll figure in the sequel. Asked if a follow-up is in the works, Ritchie would say only, “Might be.”

His next project for Warner Bros. will be The Gamekeeper, a film based on his Virgin Comics series, revolving around the reclusive caretaker of a Scottish estate who has infinite knowledge of the behaviour of all animal species. When the alleged killer of his son surfaces, the caretaker finds Europe's urban jungle is not so different from the natural landscape to which he's accustomed.

Reflecting on his career, Ritchie believes his problem was that he hit it big with Lock, Stock early on, and never got to do “esoteric” movies. “You feel misrepresented on what your intentions were,” he told The Times. “And then you feel a bit of a mug. But there's a sense in all of us that enjoys other people's ascension — usually, more, the descent.”