“Mr. Holmes won’t be here forever.”
Mr. Holmes is a daring movie, and one that miserably fails by wearing too many faces. You must be familiar with the eccentricities and exhausting surgical precision of the Sherlock character to piece together his behavior. This is Sherlock Holmes like we haven’t seen him before, and a version which, to be frank, strips away many of the character’s best qualities. Holmes’ aptitude sits in neutral, handicapped by age and a failing memory, fading away with the passage of time. Sherlock is a character rightfully revered by many because of the draw of his heightened intelligence. The man feels not of this world, nor the past or the future. He exits – alone – in his own bubble of aseptic insecurities. Our latest incarnation pops that bubble and leaves its stinger of an omen as a memento, making the seemingly immortal man meet his maker. That’s not the dilemma though. Mr. Holmes’ problem is that it’s one handsomely boring, uninteresting, unimaginative case.
At 93, Sherlock (Ian McKellen) has become one with his hillside manor. Retired, a tetchy old man reticent to engage with any walk of life. Mr. Holmes feels more like a Mr. Wilson here than that of his P.I. past. He’s stubborn and hardened, only eventually softened by his relationship with the young Roger (Milo Parker), the son of Sherlock’s maid Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and his personal Dennis the menace. Mrs. Munro discourages interactions with the doyen of crime solving, believing it will cause more bad than good for her already inquisitive son. Mr. Holmes would have been vastly superior had it chosen to place its focus here, or as a matter of fact, anywhere at all. Flashbacks show Sherlock in Japan, looking for medical cures to his memory loss. More glimpses back in time to a lingering case which still haunts him decades later. Neither story is interesting, and both are rather heartbreakingly depressing. So is watching this movie.
When a story dwells in the past, it naturally becomes difficult for the audience to ponder the prospects of its future without an inkling of evidence. False clues, or red herrings as they’re called, overpower this trip into the mind of a remorseful man. I understand that Mr. Holmes wants to make the confusion of its lead character a vicarious adventure, but never does it firmly stand its own ground, instead opting to throw us curveballs with already buckled knees. A scenario for a swing and a miss. Not that the movie can’t be admired though. The production design, the costuming, the cinematography. Some of the most important departments of film are well-executed. It’s just that it asks far too much of its talent. You can’t hide a poorly stitched together story beneath a translucent blanket; the patches are clear as day.
Ian McKellen is an actor who we take for granted, something quite frequent for performers towards the end of their career. Why would one jump to that assumption? Not all things or people get better or necessarily wiser with age, but they do gather more experience, and McKellen is a man who has learned to perfect his craft. It’s a shame that his performance takes place in such a strained, understudied, underwhelming world. When asked how many times he’s been stung in his apiary, McKellen feels like Sherlock saying, “7816 times” with careful rigor and exacting certainty. There was a Belgian film from 2003 called The Memory of a Killer that bears some resemblances to this movie, the least of which that it is actually entertaining and above all else good. Bill Condon’s latest feature may be about self-preservation, connecting itself to the bees of its story. Yet, that comparison is not earned. Honey never spoils; Mr. Holmes does from the onset.
“I haven’t a clue…I can’t solve everything.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5