McKellen’s Aged Sherlock Holmes Is The Only Joy In Dull “Mr. Holmes”

 By Scott Kurland
Film: Mr. Holmes
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, and Roger Allam
Rated PG
Director: Bill Condon

Does anyone know what two characters have been depicted the most on-screen throughout the years?...No, it isn’t Batman...yet. Nor is it any of the other big name superheroes. Actually, that’s not true. An argument can be made that one of these characters was the original crime fighter. The answer is none other than the detective we all know and love: Sherlock Holmes. What? You want to know the other character? Fine, its Dracula. Anyway, back to Sherlock. Over the years we’ve seen several interpretations of the detective grace the silver screen such as Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett for the British Television Company. Thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock has even become modernized in the hit series “Sherlock”. An argument could be made for Johnny Lee Miller on “Elementary”, but “Sherlock” is indeed the superior show. This week’s film is “Mr. Holmes” starring Ian McKellen as an old worn- out Sherlock. It also reunites Mckellan with his “Gods and Monsters” director Bill Condon. Let’s find out if its any good shall we?

“Mr. Holmes” is the story of a 90 year old Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) who is seen living out his days out by the seaside. He hasn’t solved a crime in years, his assistant Watson has been dead for some time now, and Sherlock’s mind is going. The mind is the one tool Sherlock has relied on the most for many years and he cannot seem to come to grips with not being able to use it anymore; especially when it comes to remembering his very last case. In his efforts to regain his memories, he begins searching for a cure. His story diverges a bit when the search brings him to a war-torn Japan. This journey is fueled by Sherlock's desperation to figure out the real outcome of his final case since Watson told it wrong in his writings. Aided by his housekeeper (Laura Linney), and her son (Milo Parker), Sherlock will try to solve one last crime- the one that got away.

Premise alone should make for a compelling story, right? Right! However ,“Mr. Holmes” is at times very dull and drags on way too long in the middle. I was glad to see director Bill Condon get back to his roots with this film. Yet, his execution is still a bit off. I feel like Condon was using McKellen to comment on aging, the same way he used McKellen to comment on homosexuality of the 1930s. It was a valiant effort on Condon’s part, but keep in mind Sherlock is almost a hundred in this film. If he died, it would be due to the fact that he was so old. If they wanted to make the film truly endearing, Sherlock should have been in his early 70s suffering from Alzheimer's . 

The saving grace of this film is Sir Ian McKellen. Lets be honest, it usually is. This is a game changing performance, and his depiction of a very elderly man is a revelation. The extremes Sherlock faces with his deteriorating  mind is very heartbreaking. There are moments when McKellen as Holmes visually shows the audience that his brain is shutting down. His gaze goes blank, he stares off into space, and that image tears you in two. This is one of McKellen’s strongest performances to date, and it is clear that this film is just a vehicle for him. McKellen and Condon work well together. Condon gives McKellen the direction he needs and, in return, McKellen saves what would normally be a lackluster film.

Besides the performance of McKellen, “Mr. Holmes” lacks any creativity. Milo Parker as the little boy who aids Holmes is the standard adorable little boy who will be in danger because he knows Holmes. Other than Parker’s role, the performances are pretty unimpressive. I’m shocked to say that considering Laura Linney is in this film. But sadly, she didn’t steal the show like she normally does. I was actually put off by her performance and felt like she was really chewing the scenery way too much. 

I was excited for “Mr. Holmes.” I love Sherlock Holmes as well as Ian McKellen. Still, I felt like something important was missing from this film. The mystery he was trying to solve was overshadowed by a subplot about his relationship with the young boy.  If I’m being perfectly honest, I prefer the father-son relationship over the mystery. The mystery itself was very dark and depressing for a PG film aimed at a pre-teen audience. Condon does a good job of masking certain elements of this film. The locations are beautiful, which takes away from the routine dialog. The costumes are very authentic, which hides the boring performances from everyone who isn’t McKellen. Finally, the unique story of an old broken down Holmes covers the fact that there’s not a very good plot.

I was very disappointed by this film. I wanted to love it. I was very excited to see what Sherlock has become. Yet, as I was watching the film I realized something. I, and probably many others like thinking of Sherlock as a sharp and calculating high-functioning-sociopath. By aging him and showing him depleting, we see behind the curtain. In doing this, we lose all of what makes Sherlock’s, well...Sherlock. I’m giving this film a higher grade then I should, based solely on McKellen’s performance. He gives an excellent performance in a rather uninspired story. Save your money and wait for “Mr. Holmes” to come OnDemand.

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