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Mr. Holmes (2015)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

MR. HOLMES (2015)

Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Snada, Hattie Morhan

Written By: Jeffrey Hatcher, Mitch Cullin (story/novel)

Directed By: Bill Condon

The Shot

Sir Ian McKellen plays a long-retired Sherlock Holmes.  That’s really all you should need to know to get you in the door, but Mr. Holmes has many more (often melancholy) layers than that.  A thoughtful, outstanding interpretation of the later life of a classic character.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Deep.  Textured.  Thoughtful.  Fleeting.

Pairs Well With...


The old English cure-all, with an added bolster from Mr. Holmes’ apiary.

“I've decided to write the story down: as it was, not as John made it. Get it right before I die.”

Ah, the great Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective has been locked in a cage match with Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the title of “most often adapted-to-film classic literary character” since the dawn of cinema, with countless tweaking-to and reimaginations-of occurring along the way.  Itself adapted from the novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin, Mr. Holmes is the latest re-imagining of the world’s greatest sleuth to hit the big screen, and it takes the character in a very interesting direction indeed.

There are many layers to the artfully crafted onion that is Mr. Holmes.  Beginning with the assumption that has always been present that the stories we know as being written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were concurrently being published by Dr. John Watson in the great detective’s own world, how much would the “real” Sherlock Holmes have resembled the one presented by his longtime comrade, and how would he feel about living up to that legend?  What would happen if the man whose entire career has been about getting it right when no one else could were to suddenly get it wrong?  And what, oh what, would happen if a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes were to come face-to-face with losing full command of the extraordinary mental faculties that have defined him for his entire life?

I admit that prior to viewing the trailer for Mr. Holmes, I would never have imagined that part of the answer to that last question would involve Holmes journeying to barely-one-year-into-being-Postwar Japan and visiting the bombed-out wreckage of Hiroshima, but that is just one of the interesting surprises that await those the viewers who choose to have a look at this film.

Since I did see that trailer for Mr. Holmes before walking into the theatre, I knew that the aforementioned layers would be there (and I welcomed them), but I still believed that at its heart, this film would be an intellectual adventure story involving the great detective delving into the facts of his last case with his housekeeper’s young son as his new sidekick, in the spirit of pretty much every other Sherlock Holmes story ever told.  As it turns out, those are not the facts of the case.  Instead, the primary thrust of this story is a deeply personal one that occurs primarily in the battleground of Holmes’ own declining mind, with the boy as inspiration and the inadvertent finder of one clue, yes, but still with the once-great detective primarily having to puzzle things out on his own.  It’s no less intellectual or fascinating, but it is decidedly more melancholy than it is adventurous.  The Sherlock of Mr. Holmes is an exceptionally tragic hero who is certainly solving the mystery at hand for what is at least the second time, with no guarantee that he’ll remember what he discovers beyond the threshold of tomorrow.  That we in the modern world know for a fact that the “cures” for the disease we know as Alzheimer’s (but which Holmes only knows as senility) which the detective has spent decades pursuing don’t truly work as such make his story all the more tragic.  (Though the activity of pursuit almost certainly would do his mental health some good, even if the objects would not.)  And so, wonderful though Mr. Holmes is, it is also – at least for those who have reason to understand the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease – a sad film.  Hopeful, yes, and damn well crafted; but ultimately sad.

Beyond its melancholy timbre, perhaps the most surprising revelation to come from Mr. Holmes is the performance of child actor Milo Parker, who not only holds his own when sharing the screen with thespian giant Ian McKellen (who, needless to say, more than does his part here as a thespian giant playing a giant from literature), but who indeed delivers an exceptionally strong performance in his own right.  There’s one scene in particular (which I will not spoil for you here) wherein he proves to be positively devastating, delivering a highly emotional punch that stands out in an already emotional film; a day later, I still have chills.  This is one young actor whose career definitely bears watching.

As does the entirety of Mr. Holmes.  Yes, its thrust is more emotionally melancholy than blood-rush exciting, and its story more internally reflective than outwardly adventurous, but it is a tale worthy of being told, and a take on Sherlock Holmes that does indeed do the legendary character appropriate justice.  Without question, the casting of Ian McKellen in the title role goes a long way toward assuring that, but it is the depth of its heart that truly makes Mr. Holmes a film worth experiencing.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2015

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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