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Mr. Holmes – Movie Review

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Mr. Holmes – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

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That Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories have continued to resonate and inspire new interpretations is outstanding. At their core, they are mystery stories and yet manage to tap into our wonderment of the working mind. In recent years, we’ve gotten a more action-packed take from Guy Ritchie and a BBC television series set in present day. Mr. Holmes seeks to look at the famous detective in his retirement years with director Bill Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher crafting a multi-layered tale of a man looking carefully at his past career and searching for redemption. With Ian McKellan at the top of the game, Mr. Holmes is a solid little character study of a man who was so intent on examining other people but himself.

Condon and Hatcher have the responsibility of weaving together three stories and making them coherent and important in developing the other ones. Even as the film jumps from one period in Holmes’s life to another, it never becomes a confusing mess. Of the three main stories, the strongest is when Holmes thinks back to one of his mysteries that didn’t quite go as he planned. It’s noteworthy in showing the other side of the character, the vulnerability that comes from somebody who thinks practically rather than emotionally. One of the more clever aspects of this is how the adventures depicted in Doyle’s books (or in this universe, Watson’s) are fictionalized and Condon uses this to play around with our perception of the character. One scene in a cinema is particularly humourous as he scoffs at how filmmakers have interpreted his cases. There’s even a cute little cast-related in-joke for those familiar with other screen adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. His famous deduction skills are in place, yet the film shows a Holmes almost reluctant to showcase them.

His relationship with his housekeeper’s son is nicely portrayed. While it feels similar to the typical trope of the older man inspiring a young child, Condon shows both the pros and cons of this friendship. In all of the excitement, one can forget that those we look up to are only human. Ian McKellan is able to capably play Holmes at various stages in his later career and retirement with a subtlety and at times a wink. He’s a gruff older gentlemen, but McKellan never overdoes that element of his personality. Milo Parker is a solid young child actor who is more than up to the tricky task of acting alongside McKellan. Laura Linney does a solid job of maintaining a British accent, though her performance does get a little too theatrical in a couple of scenes.

The makeup is one subtle touch that deserves to be called out on. Ian McKellan is made to look far older in Holmes’s retirement years and Dave Elsey has done a remarkable job of showing his aging without going over-the-top. There are little touches on his skin that reflect a man in his 90s, but without feeling the need to bury the actor in layers and layers of makeup. McKellan follows suit by giving Holmes the appropriate posture. The film does start to drag a little in the third act as it makes its way towards the conclusion, but the screenplay is still smart and the film nicely shows Holmes has not lost any of his deductive abilities, but he does show a bit more emotion in his later scenes.

Mr. Holmes stays faithful to the idea and character of Sherlock Holmes, while also digging deeper and showing a more emotional version of him. While there is a mystery in the plot, it’s more about exploring what he’s all about and his regrets. It’s a fascinating exploration into who he might have been upon growing older and reflecting back. Bill Condon is able to strip away and show maybe a more human Holmes. McKellan’s performance is certainly a pivotal piece in Mr. Holmes’s success, but he also had a careful direction and a intelligent and well thought-out screenplay to guide him.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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