In the last couple of years, there has been a resurgence of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic character Sherlock Holmes in pop culture whether it is Tony Stark himself, aka Robert Downey Jr., playing the character in the Guy Ritchie films or bringing Sherlock to the 21st Century courtesy of internet darling Benedict Cumberbatch. Director Bill Condon and Ian McKellen reunite once again after working with one another on “Gods & Monsters” to bring a different incarnation of Sherlock Holmes to the silver screen in “Mr. Holmes,” which is based on the novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin.
Set in 1947, McKellen plays the supersleuth as a cranky, Alzheimer-stricken 93-year-old who lives in a seaside home and is in the care of a widowed maid (Laura Linney). Holmes spends most of his time trying to keep himself busy by doing a little gardening and some beekeeping. However, Holmes starts to fear that he will lose his memory and does whatever he can to try to retain it whether it’s eating royal jelly or writing little notes to himself on the cuffs of his shirtsleeves. While he is still has his memories, Holmes also takes the time to revisit his last case, which resulted in his retirement.
“Mr. Holmes” is less about the cases that the iconic detective has worked on and more of a character study of how an intelligent man at a frail age deals with the potentiality of losing the one thing that has made him who he is: his memory.
McKellen delivers his strongest performance in years as Holmes, who can be belligerent and conniving at times. However, his cold-hearted behavior starts melting away when he strikes up a friendship with the maid’s precocious 10-year-old son (Milo Parker). Films focusing on non-creepy relationships between old men and young boys are always cliché and “Mr. Holmes” is no different. Parker’s performance is one-dimensional and his character is at times grating and predictable because it all the characteristic traits that make precocious child performances like his irritating.
The way the narrative unfolds in “Mr. Holmes” is a bit confusing because it tries to balance out different subplots that take place in different timelines. While the main crux of the film is mostly about the elderly Holmes going back to a case he worked on 30 years ago, there is also another subplot regarding Holmes’ visit to Japan that is completely dull and unnecessary.
“Mr. Holmes” is an interesting take on the Sherlock Holmes character courtesy of Ian McKellen’s stellar performance as an elderly gentleman desperately trying to hold on to his memories. The movie itself is a bit tedious and the narrative plays out more like a BBC made-for-television film rather then a full-fledged motion picture.