Mr. Holmes (2015)

Review #1,201

Director:  Bill Condon
Cast:  Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada
Plot:  An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman.

Genre:  Drama / Mystery
Awards:  -
Runtime:  104min
Rating:  PG for thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking.
International Sales:  FilmNation
Singapore Distributor:  Shaw Organisation

“I've decided to write the story down; as it was, not as John made it.  Get it right, before I die.”

This is the Sherlock Holmes movie for the drama-phile.  A talkie piece in every sense of the word, Mr. Holmes is a ponderous affair grounded by a performance of such hypnotism that you can't help but feel enthralled by it.  The great Ian McKellen stars as the title character, effectively absorbing his character's quirks and eccentricities, but not forgetting the warmth and wisdom of a wise, old man. 

The aged Sherlock Holmes, in his nineties with fading memory, strikes up a friendship with a young boy intrigued by the tales of Holmes' investigations, especially the latter's final unsolved case of a mysterious woman.  Together, they seek for clarity but for different reasons.  The boy, ever so fascinated by fiction, is curious about what life entails, while Holmes, ever so fascinated by the mysteries of life, wants psychological closure for a case that has haunted him for decades.

Directed by Bill Condon, best known for Gods and Monsters (1998) and Dreamgirls (2006), Mr. Holmes may be too slow for mainstream viewers even if it is designed to be appealing to that very same crowd.  It is not really an arthouse movie, but neither is it inherently palatable to the casual moviegoer.  But McKellen’s star presence helps to bridge the gap, whatever the gap is, bringing the audience closer to his character. 

The strength of McKellen’s performance lies in the intimacy he creates for us.  He invites us to be comfortable with his character – Holmes is not some caricature, though that is the butt of his complains, but a seasoned old man in his final years.  Gone are his days of spying around and solving mysteries, but through the memory of his last unsolved case, we are privy to a man’s agony in not having the answers to the biggest mystery of them all: life itself. 

For the post-2000s generation, Sherlock Holmes is popularly represented by both Robert Downey Jr. in the two movies directed by Guy Ritchie, and Benedict Cumberbatch in the ‘Sherlock’ television series.  While McKellen’s impression is not going to change that landscape of familiarity, it may just give us another face, another thought to ponder.  In this regard, Mr. Holmes is like a poignant afterthought, a well-deserved closure for the character, with a picturesque cinematography to boot.

Verdict:  A superb performance by the great Ian McKellen elevates this period piece drama about an aged Sherlock Holmes into something more palatable and engaging.


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