Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Thematic Elements, some Disturbing Images and incidental Smoking
Directed by: Bill Condon
Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher
(based on the novel A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND by Mitch Cullin)
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy & Roger Allam
Sherlock Holmes. Whether you’re fan of his stories or not, you’ve definitely heard of this fictional detective at one point in your life. This might be a slightly unpopular opinion, but I’ve never exactly been a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. I enjoy the two Robert Downey Jr. blockbusters, Disney’s take on the character (THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE) and even read THE HOUND OF BASKERVILLES in school. Other than that, I’m not a big Holmes aficionado. As a result, the announcement of MR. HOLMES (a film adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s novel) left me with an apathetic “meh.” I wasn’t planning on seeing this film in theaters and if I were to eventually review it, it would probably be far down the road. However, due to the urging of a few friends, I decided to give this small, little British movie a look.
Set in 1947, Sherlock Holmes is a 92-year-old retired detective living in a countryside home with his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro, and her son, Roger. Sherlock’s final days are passing him by and are filled with past regrets and memory loss. When Roger takes an interest in Holmes’s final mystery (which resulted in him retiring to the countryside), the elderly detective strains his memory for clues to the forgotten full story of that case. The only mystery here comes in Sherlock Holmes’s memories and the story is mainly played as a straight-forward drama. This is a most unusual Holmes movie and made all the better because of that.
It should surprise absolutely no one that Ian McKellen is great in the title role. I cannot think of a single bad scene featuring this brilliant British actor and this film is yet another in a long line of memorable performances. Aiding McKellen’s portrayal of the world-famous detective is a purposely unconventional approach to his character. While other movies and books portray Sherlock Holmes as a pipe-smoking over-the-top genius, McKellen plays a more grounded Sherlock. In this fictional movie universe, Holmes is a more cynical man and has disdain for his exaggerated pop-cultural portrayal (shown in a brilliant scene where the elderly Holmes visits a movie theater showing a film based on one of his mysteries). The storyline is a blend of bittersweet drama and compelling mystery. The former comes in Holmes suffering through the trials of old age and a feeble body, while the latter arrives in Holmes’s flashbacks/memories. The mashing of these two different tones makes for an intriguing one-of-a-kind experience.
Though the film has two distinct tones, there are technically three storylines at play. The main one is Sherlock’s struggle with old age and his tender friendship with Roger. The secondary plotline is the forgotten mystery that Holmes is trying to remember. The last (and definitely least) is Holmes visiting Japan to look for a medicinal plant that might aid his memory. These three plotlines weave in and out of each other with skill. Whenever one plot thread begins to overstay its welcome, the movie whisks us away into another. MR. HOLMES wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable or effective if it played out in chronological order, but its non-linear storytelling turns the film into a bit of a mystery in and of itself. Like the best mysteries, you never quite know where things are going either. Though I have issues with a couple of minor plot details, this movie had my full, undivided attention from the first frame to the end credits. That’s a pretty big compliment, seeing that I’m not necessarily an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes.
For some reason, certain movie theaters have advertised MR. HOLMES as a family friendly outing sure to warm the hearts of every age. This could not be further from the truth. Younger viewers will likely be bored stiff through this melancholy drama, but I imagine that most cinema-loving adults will be pleased with this deliberately paced final chapter to a classic fictional character’s legacy. MR. HOLMES is one of the most unusual films that I’ve seen in quite a while and also one of the bigger surprises I’ve had this year. Those looking for satisfying closure to the celebrated fictional detective need look no further.