From the Archives: Mr. Holmes review

From the Archives: Mr. Holmes review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Sir Ian McKellen’s performance is one to savor in Mr. Holmes, Bill Condon’s film adaptation of the post-Doyle Sherlock Holmes novel A Slight Trick of the Mind. At 76, the actor still shows an amazing range, playing the titular character at 60 as well as 93, and capturing both a man at the end of his career and a man at the end of his life. Mr. Holmes, at its heart, is a story about aging gracefully, controlling one’s legacy, and facing one of the scariest human fates: mental decline. Unfortunately, despite such a meaningful and sobering story, the plot through which it is told can be a real snooze. This isn’t to say that the movie is bad – it’s not, but it’s a shame to see that such an interesting take on a beloved character could be executed so blandly.

Mr. Holmes catches up with the aging detective as he arrives home from a trip to Japan, where he acquired a substance called “prickly ash” which he believes will stave off his memory loss. Holmes wants to keep his wits about him while he tries to novelize the details of the case that edged him into retirement decades ago. His legacy has taken the form of a collection of novels by his deceased partner, Watson. But much to the chagrin of Holmes, he finds these wildly popular tales to be embellished, and would like to have his final story told truthfully, and in his own words. He’d also like to eliminate any notion that he would ever wear a deerstalker cap. Holmes is currently being cared for by his housekeeper, and has enlisted the help of her young, precocious son to help him figure out what exactly caused him to give up his trade so many years ago, as well as to help him tend to his bees. Yes, he has an affinity for beekeeping.

The performances are all shades of great, with McKellen, as previously mentioned, playing the same man at extremely different ages to great effect (helped wonderfully by some very strong makeup work). Milo Parker also shines as Holmes’ young protégé, showing an intellect and mischievousness that no doubt shadows what Holmes may have been like as a child. Laura Linney, despite some inconsistent accent work, plays the closest thing we have to a villain, without actually being villainous. As a woman trapped by circumstance, fighting to provide a life for herself and her son, it’s easy to see where her frustration comes from, and Linney captures it honestly and fearlessly.

The film has a crispness to its imagery that allows the landscapes to look truly stunning, but being a product of BBC films still has the dreamy, soap-operatic quality that’s become synonymous with Downton Abbey and its ilk. The opening shot of a steam engine rolling through the countryside is gorgeous, and I’ve had a tough time wiping it from my thoughts.

One would imagine that the plot definitely works better in novel form, as it’s clear that following an extremely old man as he writes things down would work much better in the theater of the mind than on screen, but nonetheless there are pleasures to be had with Mr. Holmes. It’s a successful character study, as well as a clever mystery, even if it isn’t all that gripping as a whole.

Mr. Holmes opens today in Philly area theaters.



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