Mr. Holmes and all the images you see in this review are owned by Miramax and Roadside Attractions
Directed by Bill Condon
What is this!? A movie in the summer with explosions!? A period piece right in the middle of this year’s boom-a-thon!? Well this actually has a bit going for it that might explain why it’s being released now instead of in a couple of months, other than trying not to get crowded out during the Oscar months. It’s about Sherlock Holmes who couldn’t be bigger right now what with the BBC and CBS shows still kicking around. Not only that, we have genre super star Ian McKellen in the title role and it’s being directed by Bill Condon who has a BIT of a shaky career (he directed the best AND worst Twilight movies) but still has a lot of credibility for earlier works like God and Monsters and Dreamgirls. So either it’s get a jump start on Oscar season by trying to muscle in with the big boys, or it’s hoping to come out before any less than stellar comparisons can be made once the summer ends. Which one is it? Let’s find out!!
The movie is about Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) who is getting up in years (ninety-three and counting!) and has spent quite a few of his twilight years in seclusion from the rest of the world. After just arriving home from a trip to Japan (it’s 1947 so it’s not that long after the bombs dropped), he begins to form a bond with the son of his housekeeper and they grow to enjoy each other company as Sherlock is looking for someone to spend his final days with and the young boy (Roger) is looking for a father figure since his own died in World War 2. Along with his growing friendship with young Roger (Milo Parker), he also tries some remedies he brought back from Japan in order to help his memory which has been fading recently and he wishes to recall more details about the final case which apparently went unsolved and caused him to retire. What were the circumstances surrounding this case? Will he find joy in his remaining time on Earth through Roger who seems to be quite quick witted like himself? Will solving this final case finally bring about the peace that has been absent from his life for so very long?
The movie is good. The cinematography, while not very inspired, is very well done and the film looks beautiful throughout. The performance from Ian McKellen as the world weary Sherlock Holmes is well realized with some very convincing age makeup, and everyone else in the cast does their job very well here. The mystery from the past isn’t all that intriguing, and the story doesn’t have any major twists or very exciting moments, but it’s executed impeccably with every detail polished to near perfection. Honestly, I can’t really think of anything this movie does wrong outside of one or two complaints which are probably more on me than the movie itself but I still ultimately have mixed feelings overall. I feel like I just sat through a ballet or some sort of poetry reading. I certainly enjoyed watching it, but anything that I have to say negative here feel less like problems the movie actually has and more about what kind of movies I tend to enjoy. Is it slow paced and about a guy who struggles to go from one room to another? Yup. Does it fill you with melancholy as you watch this man approach the end of his life which reminds us all of our own mortality? Yup. Do they all talk in funny accents and use words that we don’t use any more in common parlance because it’s set in the forties? YUP!!!
Not necessarily my cup of tea, but for what it is, it’s done superbly and actually manages to pique your interests every once in a while just from the sheer level of detail on display. The best part of the movie is probably his visit to Japan because it’s quite fascinating to see Japan in the late forties. Not enough movies look at that time in their history. If there’s one thing that I feel is a legitimate criticism however, it’s that once again we have an interpretation of Sherlock Holmes which directly mocks the fanciful nature of the Sherlock Holmes we all like. Oh, are Deer Stalker caps stupid? Well the mother fucker who wore that is still selling books to this day! The movie even takes a moment to show its disdain for the popular interpretations of Holmes by having him go to one of his own movies and spends the whole evening scoffing at it. It’s be one thing if it was simply him being a fuddy duddy , but the movie they’re showing in the theater (which looks to be shot on HD film) is pretty terrible in the few scenes we see it.
I guess that kind of encompasses my main gripe with this and it’s that it’s SO tasteful that it seems resistant to anything past a certain level of fun. Sure it’s got heart and some great characters, but it never excites you or gives you a sense of real urgency outside of some small moments towards the end, and even that kind of fell flat for me. By trying to be as nice and clean as it was, I felt that it left me a bit cold. Now even though I did just complain about all that, it’s still a rather minor problem with the movie considering how well it does just about everything else. No, what REALLY brings this movie down for me is when they explain WHY Sherlock Holmes retired after that case. I won’t get into too much details, but they basically take a character who possesses one of the most analytical minds of all time and makes this story all about him realizing that people have emotions and learning how absolutely wonderful they are. SERIOUSLY!? You took one of the characters most defining aspects (his Achilles heel if you will) and made this story all about getting over it? I mean this feels like a genuinely dishonest story beat that’s in service of getting this particular ending that they want for him.
We’re dealing with a different Sherlock Holmes in this movie so I get that he’s not the high functioning sociopath he’s often portrayed to be, but then if he’s NOT one then it wouldn’t have taken him until his mid-fifties (when he was working on the case) to come up with this revelation! In the other direction (presuming he IS in a fact a high functioning sociopath as he’s sometimes described), then the inciting incident for him to STOP being one is rather… uneventful I guess. I buy that he feels bad about the inciting incident, but the amount of import that the puts on this one event just doesn’t sell well in the movie. It just feels saccharin and wrong for a character like Sherlock Holmes. Batman isn’t going to solve Gotham’s crime problem by beating up poor people and Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be this sappy. Again, this might be an instance where what I want from a Sherlock Holmes film is clashing with what kind of movie this actually is, and for what it’s worth his redemptive arc is executed quite well. It just doesn’t feel needed here in a movie that really could have used a bit more bite. Still, I’m glad I saw it if for no other reason than a palette cleanser to ease me out of the summer. Hell, after the last couple of weeks we’ve had at the box office it’s nice to have SOMETHING done well even if it isn’t my cup of tea. I definitely recommend it despite its flaws, and even those might not bother you as much as they bothered me.
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