Directed by: Bill Condon.
Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher based on the novel by Mitch Cullin.
Starring: Ian McKellen (Sherlock Holmes), Laura Linney (Mrs. Munro), Milo Parker (Roger), Hiroyuki Sanada (Tamiki Umezaki), Hattie Morahan (Ann Kelmot), Patrick Kennedy (Thomas Kelmot), Roger Allam (Dr. Barrie), Philip Davis (Inspector Gilbert), Frances de la Tour (Madame Schirmer).
Even the sharpest minds eventually succumb to old age, and the forgetfulness that goes along with it. In Bill Condon’s enjoyable Mr. Holmes, it is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s infamous detective Sherlock – whose mind is failing him. That’s understandable, since when we first meet this version of Sherlock Holmes, it is 1947, and he is 93 years old. He has been retired for decades – Watson is long dead – and Holmes lives in the country, tending to his bees, and having little interaction with anyone save for his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) – a war widow – and her young son Roger (Milo Parker) – a fan of those books by Watson, that Holmes finds so ridiculous. Holmes has just returned from Japan with some “prickly ash” – a substance that is supposed to ward off his forgetfulness, which he worries is encroaching more and more, and that the royal jelly he gathers from the bees doesn’t seem to be helping anymore. In an effort to get his mind going again – and to appease young Roger – Sherlock has decided to write his own story – about his last case – way back in 1917 - that Watson had already written about. But when Sherlock goes to the cinema to see the movie version of the case, something doesn’t seem right – the conclusion doesn’t make any sense to him, plus, while he doesn’t quite remember what happened, he does remember that it led him to retire full of regret, so what Watson has written just doesn’t add up. But if that didn’t happen, then what the hell did?
Mr. Holmes was directed by Bill Condon, who is coming off of a few bad movies (the final two installments of the Twilight Saga – for which I am sure he was rewarded nicely, and good for him – and The Fifth Estate, where he failed to capture the enigma that is WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange). Condon is back in his element of period pieces that brought him his best films (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, and hell, Dreamgirls) – and he has reunited with the stars of two of those movies. As Holmes, Ian McKellan is a delight – not even the layers of makeup that are used to transform the 76 year old actor into the 93 year old character can hide his delight in playing this role. In the scenes when he is 93, he is more than a little bit of a grumpy curmudgeon, who is eventually brought back to the living through his relationship with Roger, who he grows to love. In the flashback sequences, McKellan plays more the version of Holmes we are used to seeing – whipsmart, confident with the ability to deduce everything about those around him – not the somewhat confused old man in the other scenes. And yet, McKellan does an excellent job at tying these two different era Holmes together in their inability to understand normal human behavior. Holmes is brilliant – but he doesn’t much understand emotions. Laura Linney, who had a much better role in Kinsey than here, is stuck with a role that for most of the running time seems like it will be the one dimensional stick-in-the-mud wife/mother figure – although she does get some nice scenes in the last act.
Mr. Holmes is the type of movie that seems to have been made strictly for the senior set – those retirees who venture out to matinees, and who keep the likes of Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench working – for which we can all be happy, as those actresses are still delightful. The film is gentle, and not overly challenging in any real way. The scenes set in Japan, and around Holmes’ relationship with Tamiki Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada), don’t really go anywhere – I know it’s there, so we can see that Holmes has changed with his last action in the movie, but it’s a hell of a lot of running time for such a small insight into his character. But the movie is fun, and well-acted and well made, and does offer a little counter programming to a summer full of action and explosions. Yes, like many blockbusters, you’ll probably forget about Mr. Holmes soon after you drive home – but also like many of them, you’ll have fun while you’re watching.