Cinematic Releases: Mr. Holmes - Guaranteed Spoiler Free Review

The mystery of getting old is solved in the latest Sherlock movie, Mr. Holmes. 

"Call me Magneto one more time
you little bitch, and I'll crush your
 ten year old skull like a soda can."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly the greatest fictional detective character ever created in both literature and film.  Adapted well over 200 times in film and television, the many adventures of Baker Street’s most ingenious sleuth of London, England has been told both faithfully to the source and retold through an ongoing series of clever deviations including but not limited to Young Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie’s action packed reboot with Robert Downey, Jr., Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective, and the recently released Sherlock television series with Benedict Cumberbatch.  In other words, the character is so popular that what-if scenarios of Doyle’s legendary hero have become as commonplace as they are accepted in pop culture. 

The latest and most poignant addition to Mr. Holmes’ adventures is Bill Condon’s aptly named Mr. Holmes with veteran British actor Ian McKellan in the coveted and titular role.  Here, Mr. Holmes treats viewers to an unseen side of the world famous super sleuth, depicting the man as a deteriorating 93 year old elder coming to terms with his mortality as he muses over his past, ruminating notably on the last case which would cause him to retire from the profession indefinitely.

The ‘super sleuth as an old man’ movie clearly aimed at elderly moviegoers is something of a mixed but still enjoyable bag, belonging entirely to the masterful acting of Ian McKellan who is always a joy to watch.  It’s one of those movies where you’re well aware of the schmaltzy sentimentality tugging at your heartstrings, imbuing the logically thinking detective with an emotional quality, yet we find ourselves caught up in the aged hero’s existential dilemma. Often compared to Condon’s previous collaboration with McKellan, Gods and Monsters, it’s a period drama that moves at a modest pace with lovely cinematography and attention to historical detail.  Condon’s approach tends to drag in some areas, retreading familiar ground as far as these kinds of movies are concerned, but where it shines involve flashbacks to an exotic case in post Hiroshima Japan featuring Ringu’s Hiroyuki Sanada and his brief emotional connection to his final case involving a woman who plans to murder her husband.  In the pantheon of Mr. Holmes’ experiences depicted in the film, his past ones are the most affecting, particularly when we see the super sleuth at the peak of his intellectual powers but still easily touched by his emotions. 

"I'm old."
As previously mentioned, it’s a bit imbalanced due to Condon’s handsome but at times torpid direction and the present day moments of schmaltz involving his shaky relations with a young mother (Laura Linney) and her son do tend towards the obvious tearjerking manipulation that would make the likes of Mimi Leder blush.  That said, Mr. Holmes is worth seeing purely for McKellan who is simply put one of the greatest actors still working today.  He’s the kind of actor who will always be great even if the film featuring him isn’t always up to par.  It was an intriguing, unique look at popular fiction’s greatest detective as a grandpa looking back on the life that preceded his reputation.  

While popularized in film and theater to this day, Mr. Holmes clearly believes in the reality of the great detective and McKellan’s aged portrait of the man serves to demystify the character and present a man wrestling with his past lifetime as he looks on towards the uncertain future. 

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-Andrew Kotwicki