Put simply, Mr. Holmes is one the best films of 2015, a wonderfully acted, superbly directed, and beautifully shot and scored take on Sherlock Holmes that deserves to be remembered as one of the great cinematic efforts featuring the fictional British detective. Not to mention well-cast, with the estimable Ian McKellen giving perhaps the performance of his career.
He plays Holmes, of course, albeit Holmes at 93 in 1947, long retired and living in a Sussex farmhouse with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son (Milo Parker). In between bonding with the boy via his bee farm, he struggles against his failing memory to write a truer account of his last case (which we witness in flashbacks) than what ex-partner John Watson authored.
The script, based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, pleasingly presents Holmes as human. In the flashbacks we see him still sharp, his deductive mind at full power, his attitude somewhat arrogant. But presently age has taken a toll, leaving him physically frailer and worse for wear psychologically, just like any mere mortal (though his intellect remains a force when rallied).
His I’m-smarter-than-you aloofness, however, has merely segued into cranky obstinacy, a result of his frustration at his erratic recall. McKellen, all of 76, plays up this aspect nicely, aided by very convincing old-age makeup. But he makes a real case for an Oscar as we watch him soften up Holmes through bonding with Parker and gaining an understanding of events in his past.
We also get to see a keen young talent bloom in Parker, who makes his character bright and inquisitive, and even a little blunt as he remarks on his mother’s lack of education. He and McKellen make for a fascinating pair of pals. Linney herself does solid work as the boy’s mum, a slightly stern figure doing her level best in dealing with both her son and the handful that is the elderly Holmes.
Bill Condon (who directed McKellen in Gods and Monsters and Linney in The Fifth Estate) wastes not a shot here. Indeed, he makes a surplus of smart directorial decisions, including spreading the flashbacks of Holmes’ very compelling final case throughout the film and sprinkling in just the right amount of humor. That he has made a terrific film, then, is, well, elementary.
(A fun bit of trivia: The actor who plays Sherlock Holmes in the Sherlock Holmes movie McKellen’s Holmes goes to see is played by Nicholas Rowe, who played the character as a teen in 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes.) – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 11/10/15