********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Bill Condon
Actors: Ian McKellen, Milo Parker, Laura Linney
We are used to seeing Sherlock Holmes in a certain way. The way Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described him, the way many famous TV series and movies have displayed him. Young, energetic, restless, pompous, selfish, asocial, desperate for a challenging case, and of course, highly intelligent. That is how the legend of Sherlock Holmes has stayed with us, more or less, for more than a century. So it comes as a rude shock when someone tells us that Sherlock Holmes can age, and can face physical sufferings the same way as mortal men. Mr Holmes paints such a portrayal of the famous detective, which is unnerving at first, difficult to digest; but then the charm of Sir Ian McKellen kicks in and the movie’s premise becomes promising, and soon we are hooked to Mr. Holmes before we know it. The portrayal of this kind of Sherlock Holmes does make the movie’s tagline quite apt – the man beyond the myth.
Mr. Holmes follows a 93-year old Sherlock Holmes (Sir Ian McKellen), the once famous detective of Baker Street, now living in retirement in the countryside, where he is tended to by his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker). Holmes has taken to bee-keeping, and is assisted by young Roger who forms a friendly bond with Holmes. But there is one thing that is troubling him, and that is the details of his final case. Old age is making it difficult for Holmes to remember the specifics of that last case, which he is desperate to recollect and understand. Holmes is thus now left facing his one last difficulty which he must overcome – his older self.
Mr. Holmes is based on the 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind written by Mitch Cullin. The story in itself is beautiful, a different take on the lead character that is still worthy of being a Sherlock Holmes story. The screenplay adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher has been done immaculately, carving a soft, gentle story that still manages to find vigour and excitement when needed. It has three layers to it across different time periods – Sherlock Holmes in retirement, Sherlock Holmes in Japan searching for a cure to his dementia, and Sherlock Holmes working on his final case. The three stories weave in and out of each other, and director Bill Condon considers his audience to be intelligent enough to understand which segment is being shown on screen. That kind of screenplay and direction makes this movie all the more intriguing. After the disappointment of The Fifth Estate (2013), Bill Condon has definitely redeemed himself with a much thoughtfully made Mr. Holmes.
We are so used to seeing Sherlock Holmes make clever breakthroughs, think and speak at a speed that makes him look all the more awe-inspiring, that too see him as a grandfatherly figure is almost impossible. That is why this role required someone of the class of Ian McKellen to make it possible. McKellen approaches this version of Sherlock Holmes with the patience and care the character deserves; he mixes the pride of the Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle with the physical frailties of an ageing man to create the perfect version of a very old Sherlock Holmes. A man who still dwells on logic behind every action, whose skills as a detective are quite acute (the scene where he reveals where his housekeeper had been by a cursory glance gave me the goosebumps), but who has been taught lessons by the greatest master – life. The legend has been made more human by Ian McKellen without dismissing the qualities that made him a legend in the first place. It is a performance that you can feel honoured to have witnessed, because I doubt if any of the young crop playing Sherlock Holmes now can imagine pulling off something equally remarkable 30-40 years later.
The surprise package in the movie is the young lad, Milo Parker. In only his second feature film. Parker exudes such confidence that he looks more like a Sherlock Holmes in the making. He portrays this young smart lad with an ease that many older actors could learn from. In the absence of Dr. Watson, young Milo Parker takes on that role, giving Sherlock Holmes an audience once again. Laura Linney has to take a step back as McKellen and Parker take much of the screen, but she still gives her character a very sincere look, and does create a bond with the audience. Hiroyuki Sanada, as Sherlock Holmes’ host in Japan, and Hattie Morahan, as the mystery lady of Holmes’ last case, have briefer roles, but well-executed ones which bring in more variety to the movie.
Mr. Holmes is one for the age-old fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works. It isn’t flashy, verbose, lightning quick; instead, it is dramatic, sweet, and still gripping at a comfortable pace. A good break from the action-packed summer we are having, eh!?