Mr. Holmes

December 17, 2015 at 8:21 am | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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This is the second of my two “in-flight” reviews, if you will. Admittedly, watching a film on an 8″ screen is a very different experience than in a darkened theater. Some films suffer on a small screen but I think this one carries through intact; it’s strengths (and weaknesses) all occur on the level of the story and not the image. We are treated to the great Sir Ian McKellen taking his turn at perhaps the most represented fictional character on screen. Has any character, including any of Shakespeare’s, been played by more people in movies and television than Sherlock Holmes? From Basil Rathbone to Benedict Cumberbatch, everyone has had his interpretation, be it the cool moral superiority of Jeremy Brett’s take or Robert Downey Jr’s rollicking action star or the formulaic Jonny Lee Miller police procedural (CSI: Holmes, if you will). This time, McKellen takes on an elderly, retired Sherlock. He’s weak and his memory is fading. He has moved to the country and he’s hiding from something that he just can’t quite remember. However, the intense curiosity and hero-worship of his housekeeper’s young son stirs Holmes and, in the process of engaging this boy, he begins the process of remembering. That process proceeds over multiple flashbacks creating a layered but often confusing narrative. We have Holmes in his present (the last 1940s) with the boy. We have the story he is telling the boy, told in flashback with his voice over narration. Somewhere in there we have Mr Watson’s version of that same story. We have another flashback to a recent trip to Japan that connects only tenuously to the main plot. And, I believe, we have 1 or 2 other random flashbacks. Perhaps our confusion is meant to simulate Holmes’s own confusion with his history. Having not read the book, I cannot know if this is a technique the author employed or if, as is often the case, the director and screenwriters just tried to shove too much of the book into the movie, losing context and clarity along the way. By the end, the story is clear enough and, what is also clear enough, is that the story is not important or interesting enough to matter anyway. The central mystery, once solved, is not that compelling and the Japanese story, once resolved, feels weightless and irrelevant. What does matter is the relationship between Holmes, this boy and his concerned mother. That’s a lovely story about age and youth, wisdom and excitement and how each can gain from the other. McKellen is terrific at playing Holmes as a grumpy old man whose irritability hides fear, sadness and profound regret. This Holmes is strongest, not when he is being the world-famous sleuth, but when he is simply willing to be vulnerable and when he is willing to learn as much as teach. To me, that makes him a pretty good addition to the canon.

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