There’s something instantly intriguing about the idea of Sherlock Holmes in his retirement years. A mind that sharp, what would it do without cases to solve? Throw in the fact that Ian McKellen would be playing Holmes during this final stage of his life, not to mention that Bill Condon would be in the director’s chair, and you should have a brilliant film and an instant Academy Award frontrunner. Well, sadly Mr. Holmes just didn’t gel for me in that way. I know I’m in the minority, but I found the movie to be often ponderous, boring at far too many times, and mostly unworthy of the talent involved. McKellen is as good as hoped, but Condon doesn’t seem nearly as interested in the material as he should be. I’m not sure how much of it is based on the source material being dry, but Mr. Holmes just never intrigues like it should. It’s nice to look at and to admire McKellen’s work, but it’s definitely missing that extra bit of cinematic magic. As a meditative novel, perhaps it works, but as a movie, it left me wanting a lot more than I got. It’s not a bad time at the cinema, but Mr. Holmes is definitely a let down, particularly if you had high hopes like I did.
Taking place in 1947, the film seeks to show you the legendary character in a new light. Now an old man, Sherlock Holmes (McKellen) has just returned home to England after a trip to Japan showed him the devastation that nuclear war can bring on humanity. Holmes is now living a very simple life at his seaside farmhouse in a remote part of the countryside, almost more interest in his bees than anything else. The few people he regularly deals with include his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker), who’s intrigued by Holmes. It’s clear that Holmes is not as sharp as he once was, but he’s still someone with a desire to solve problems, particularly in regards to a case he couldn’t solve and which wound up leading to his retirement. Reliant on the boy for help, he begins to try and figure out what went wrong, and we get a glimpse at a younger Holmes as his time sleuthing came to an end. The ingredients are all here for something terrific, but Mr. Holmes is a film that always seems to play things a bit safer than needed. The result is a diluted effort that can’t help but leave you wanting more from it.
The one thing that the film unabashedly has going in its favor is its acting. Not only is Ian McKellen as good as advertised, but Laura Linney delivers in a strong supporting role as well. McKellen always shows us the mind of Holmes working, even when age is failing him. He’s even better in those moments where we see McKellen as a slightly more classic Sherlock. The whole conceit here is that the character written about in books is nothing like this individual, but McKellen is able to cross that bridge and make this both a unique person as well as someone identifiable as the great detective. Linney disappears into a frumpy role that could have been thankless in the hands of a lesser actress. Especially towards the end, she really comes on and impresses. For a child actor, Milo Parker is pretty solid, which is important because he’s essentially the third lead character here. Supporting players include Patrick Kennedy, Hattie Morahan, Hiroyuki Sanada, and more, but it’s Linney and especially McKellen who contribute the most memorable contributions by far.
I think we can officially say that Bill Condon is in a slump. After his great run of Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, and Dreamgirls, he’s given us The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, The Fifth Estate, and now this, Condon doesn’t do a bad job here, but those paycheck vampire gigs seemed to have literally sucked the blood from him. Perhaps his live action Beauty and the Beast for Disney will be a return to form, but my guess is that he’s begun a slide downhill. The visuals are very nice here, but he does very little with scribe Jeffrey Hatcher‘s adaptation to make it into a consistently interesting movie. What a shame. It’s always just so safe, never really going anywhere truly compelling, despite occasionally getting into issues of grief and regret. Monotony clearly wasn’t the intention of Condon and Hatcher, but that was the end result, at least to me.
Overall, Mr. Holmes isn’t especially bad, but it’s super bland and can test your patience if you’re not in the right frame of mind. McKellen saves things as best he can, but there’s only so much that he can do. Sherlock Holmes is a character open to all sorts of interpretations, with this one especially having had a ton of potential. It’s just disappointing that it couldn’t be more fully brought to life. If you’re curious about Mr. Holmes, I won’t say not to see it, but I will say to lower your expectations…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!