Sherlock Holmes is back, but we have never seen a Sherlock like this before. As I say in my video review (click the link above), the new Mr. Holmes is a completely different take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective. This new film with a screenplay from Jeffrey Hatcher based on the book A Slight Trick Of The Mind by Mitch Cullin has a great premise. What if Sherlock Holmes were a real person. Here he is just that, and the film, directed beautifully by Bill Condon, has fun when Holmes comments on his portrayal in books and in one highly amusing scene as he visits a theater to see a B-movie version of essentially himself. He is not pleased, but moviegoers who line up for this film most definitely will be.
This film views Holmes (Ian McKellen) at age 93, retired to the Sussex countryside and tending to his bees. His principal human contact is with his housekeeper, a recent war widow named Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker), who befriends the old man and joins in the beekeeping hobby. Holmes has just returned from Japan, where he saw the effects of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. All the characters we knew from earlier in his life are long gone including his faithful sidekick Watson. His descent into very old age is simple, but Holmes being Holmes he still has one last mystery to solve, an old case he never cracked. That keeps him busy as we see flashbacks that help us construct the puzzle. This is a lovely, lyrical film with themes revolving around the inevitability of aging and the things of life that remain unfinished.
Reuniting with Condon, after first winning a Best Actor Oscar nomination for their 1998 collaboration Gods And Monsters (which won Condon the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar), McKellen not only is ideally cast but he is pure perfection in the role, as you might expect. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is another Oscar nomination in his future for this one. This is not the Sherlock Holmes with the deerstalker hat and pipe. The portrayal is of a more quiet, introspective man in the sunset of his years, but it is no less engaging and McKellen just nails it. So does the wonderful Linney in a role that could have been a stereotyped housekeeper but instead is a fully dimensional woman trying to keep her own life together bringing up a child on her own after losing her husband in the war. Her scenes opposite McKellen are pure gems. It’s a breath of fresh air to watch two such accomplished pros working with this level of material. And what a find young Parker is. Roger is a kid beyond his years, and the actor brings surprising nuance to the role. This, like Gods And Monsters, is a small, independently made film that is the perfect summer antidote to the weekly blockbusters to which we are subjected. Sometimes smaller is much better. This is one that shoots straight for the heart and mind.
The MIRAMAX/Roadside Attractions release opens Friday on nearly 400 screens. Do you plan on seeing Mr. Holmes? Let us know what you think.