Friday, July 17, 2015

Grumpy Old Mr. Holmes

Adapted from Mitch Cullen's novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, Mr. Holmes is an intriguing, if flawed, idea offering audiences a look at the retired detective fighting senility while struggling to remember the details of his final case decades before. I say flawed because despite a terrific performance from Ian McKellen removing the keen intellect from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes also removes the character's most definable trait leaving only a hollow shell in its place.

Taking place three decades after his retirement into the country to spend his time with his bees, a senile and grumpy Sherlock Holmes struggles to remember the details of his final case which he is certain Watson wrongly chronicled. His secluded existence is witnessed only by his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), her son Roger (Milo Parker), and the occasional visit from Sherlock's doctor (Roger Allam). Returning from a trip to Japan at the opening of the film, which is chronicled in flashbacks inter-cut with those of his final case and his current retirement, Holmes strikes up an unexpected friendship with Roger who helps reignite the detective's memory.

Despite it's three distinct storylines none of Mr. Holmes feels particularly Holmesian other than the man sizing up a person after a moment's glance. The half-remembered final case isn't much of a mystery, the trip to Japan may showcase Holmes' desperation to keep his mind sharp but ultimately leads nowhere unexpected, and his adventures in the country are so far removed from Doyle's creation that the character is almost unrecognizable. As a Holmes fan, seeing the great man buckle to humility isn't an outcome I never cared to witness. There's a dignity in Holmes fading into the mists of time that Mr. Holmes strips from the character, along with his faculties, leaving a far more human (too human I'd argue) bitter old man in his place.

If I find fault with the script and the end Cullen and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher choose for the larger than life character there are still oddly fascinating moments which the plot provides such as Holmes viewing a matinee of his serialized adventures, the relationship between the retired detective and Roger, and, of course, the performance of McKellen. I may not be able to recommend the film on this alone, but McKellen's performance is worth noting even if it does demystify Sherlock Holmes far too much for my tastes.

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