July 25, 2015
It is 1947. Renowned detective Sherlock Holmes was 93 years old, and had long already retired from solving cases. He was living in a remote English village where he tends some colonies of bees. Advanced in age and weak in memory, Holmes had a housekeeper Mrs. Munro who had a smart and spirited son named Roger to keep him company. Holmes' peace of mind was constantly bothered by incomplete recollections of a case involving Mr. and Mrs. Kelmot. This was about an overbearing husband who wanted Holmes to shadow his lonely and depressed wife. This was Holmes' last case before he retired, and his bothered conscience pushes him to write his own version of the story.
Sir Ian McKellen gives us a master class in film acting as Mr. Holmes. The physical transformation was so impressive. His aging makeup was very realistic as well as his subtle portrayal of impending dementia. His sharpness of mind was never in question, though there were already difficulties in motor capacities. Everything was portrayed with the dignity this iconic character deserved, despite lines which tend to break the myths about him (like about his deerstalker cap and his pipe). McKellen exuded the confidence and astuteness we expect from this ace sleuth.
Laura Linney was practically unrecognizable as the middle-aged widow Mrs. Munro, a proud working woman, not entirely amused by Holmes' eccentric habits. Her character though was not as well-written as that of her son Roger, played by young Milo Parker. Roger was Holmes' constant aide and apprentice, a grandson he never had. Parker, whom I recently saw in a sci-fi thriller "Robot Overlords," gave an impressively restrained performance, holding his own in intense scenes with his more senior and Oscar-nominated co-stars, McKellen and Linney.
This is a very British film in language and in gentility. As directed by Bill Condon, the film was told with a slow and sedate pace, which was just appropriate for its geriatric main character. While the case of the Kelmots was interesting, it was deeply psychological, not action-packed at all. The intervening scenes about Holmes' trip to Japan were beautifully shot (especially the one set in Hiroshima), but these may not be entirely necessary for story progression in the final analysis. These aspects may not sit well for those who prefer the faster pace of the Robert Downey Jr. Holmes or TV's Benedict Cumberbatch Holmes.
However, despite the seeming lack of a more exciting climax, the script by Mitch Cullin (adapted from his own novel "A Slight Trick of the Mind") sizzled with wit and pathos. The writing was simply so elegant, and these words were complemented by beautifully composed scenes, with striking cinematography, costumes and production design. While Holmes was demystified here, they did not miss out on showing Holmes' deductive process step by step, an interesting staple in all Sherlock Holmes films. Overall though, it is really Ian McKellen's magnificent and flawless performance that makes this film a must-see. 8/10.