Mr. Holmes (2015) / Drama-Mystery

MPAA Rated: PG for thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Roger Allam
Director: Bill Condon
Screenplay: Jeffrey Hatcher (based on the book, "A Slight Trick of the Mind", by Mitch Cullin)

Review published July 22, 2015

Despite a plethora of films, TV shows, books, comics, and other stories featuring Sherlock Holmes for over a century, Mr. Holmes manages to find a unique wrinkle on the formula originating from the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, showing the titular detective at the end of a legendary life. Primarily set in 1947, Ian McKellen (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, X-Men: Days of Future Past) stars as Mr. Holmes, now in his 90s, retired from service in his country abode, with his once razor-sharp faculties beginning to fade as he has entered into old age.  He's looked into rare plants ('prickly ash') from Japan to reverse the dementia process, as well as taking to bee keeping to harvest royal jelly that is rumored to do the same.

With only his widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Murno (Linney, The Fifth Estate), and her rambunctious young son Roger (Parker, Robot Overlords) to keep him company, Holmes looks to garner enough of the memory he has left to finally write the true story of his final case, which had not only led to his retirement from his profession, but also into semi-reclusiveness.  He seeks to counteract the account that had been highly embellished by his partner in crime-solving, Dr. Watson, who helped to make Sherlock Holmes a larger-than-life figure, with his pipe he never smoked (he prefers cigars) and deer-stalker hat he never wore, in the mind of the general public.

Directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey), Mr. Holmes is a slow-moving drama with mystery elements, perhaps too slow for those hoping for a more rip-roaring Sherlock Holmes yarn, but which still delivers on an interesting new spin on an age-old character, bolstered by a spellbinding performance by Sir Ian McKellen, who collaborated to an Oscar nomination with Condon before in a similarly themed Gods and Monsters, at its core.  While there have been, and will likely be in the future, many representations of Holmes that will endure, it's hard to imagine someone filling the shoes of McKellen so well for a Holmes in his golden years.

The adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher (Casanova, Stage Beauty), taken from the 2005 novel, "A Slight Trick of the Mind", by Mitch Cullin, jumps back and forth in time, from the present, to the recent past when Holmes decides to visit Japan to score the prickly ash, to the more distant past of the storied case, three decades prior, involving a husband whose wife may be trying to contact her dead unborn children during her music lessons, that he is trying so desperately to remember and write down before it is too late. 

There are smaller mysteries to solve, but Mr. Holmes plays much more like a character study of a brilliant man who is still not too old or too learned to learn a thing or two about life, at a time when the only mystery left to solve is one he can't, which is how to restore a fading memory in old age.  It's slow, ponderous, and a bit uneven on occasion, but for McKellen and some nuanced storytelling choices, it's an elementary choice for any Sherlock Holmes fan.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo