The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>MR HOLMES</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - MR HOLMES

A retired Sherlock Holmes attempts to correct the details of his final case.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Bill Condon

Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Milo Parker

"Unlike the 'grey pound' movies, which usually take a very patronising view of old people, Mr Holmes isn't afraid to present a realistic look at the aging process, and the result is the best portrait of an OAP since The Straight Story."

Thanks to the Guy Ritchie movies and the contemporary set BBC series, Sherlock Holmes, arguably the most well known fictional character of all time (though many would argue Jesus), is once again occupying a prominent position in pop culture. Based on Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, Bill Condon's reteaming with his Gods and Monsters star Ian McKellen has little in common with either of the aforementioned franchises.
We've seen aged Holmes on screen before. In his penultimate performance, the great Peter Cushing played a retired Holmes called back into service for one final case in Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death. With Mr Holmes however he's well and truly out of the detection racket. Here, McKellen's Holmes is 93, retired and keeping bees at his home on the Sussex coast, which he shares with live-in housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her precocious son Roger (Milo Parker), who takes great interest in Holmes' former life, much to the annoyance of his mother, not such a fan of her employer.
Set just after World War II, the movie posits Holmes as an international celebrity, thanks to the writings of his former comrade Watson, who we learn passed away a couple of decades before the events of the film. A movie (clearly modelled on the Basil Rathbone series of the '40s) has just been released based on Holmes' final case before his retirement three decades previous. Annoyed at how Watson swapped the tragic real conclusion of the case for an upbeat resolution, Holmes attempts to write his version of the case, the details of which we see in flashback. Not unlike Hitchcock's Vertigo, it's a case that sees Holmes hired to follow an attractive troubled woman, and like Jimmy Stewart, he finds himself duped by her charms.
Remove the flashbacks to Sherlock's sleuthing past and Mr Holmes is a simple tale of a man reflecting on the mistakes of his life at a time when every day is precious. This leads Holmes to discover that logic and reason, the backbone of his career, may lead to the correct result, but not always the right one. As well as his reassessment of his final case, a recent trip to Japan, at the invite of the son of a former colleague, prompts Holmes to reflect on how his obsession with facts and lack of compassion has led to his ending up a man alone.
Delivering two very different performances, McKellen seems born to inhabit this role. As the 93-year-old Holmes he brilliantly portrays the struggle of a highly intelligent man attempting to fight the inevitable mental ravages of time. As a 60ish Holmes he makes for the most convincing portrayal of the detective in his pomp since Jeremy Brett, star of ITV's great '80s series.
Ever since British movie producers recently discovered that elderly people like to watch movies just as much as the rest of us, we've seen a spate of mostly awful films featuring protagonists over the age of 60, a sub-genre that's come to be known as 'The Grey Pound'. Unlike those movies, which usually take a very patronising view of old people, Mr Holmes isn't afraid to present a realistic look at the aging process, and the result is the best portrait of an OAP since The Straight Story.