Title: Mr. Holmes
Country: UK, USA
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Director: Bill Condon
Screenwriter: Jeffrey Hatcher
based on the novel “A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND” by Mitch Cullin
Music: Carter Burwell
Cinematography: Tobias A. Schliessler
Frances de la Tour
A reunion of Bill Condon and Ian McKellen after the mesmeric GODS AND MONSTERS (1998), a biography about the last days of James Whale, the director of FRANKENSTEIN (1931), which unequivocally elicits the latter’s tour-de-force performance of his career. The second round, it is about the final days of Sherlock Holmes (McKellen), at the age of 93 in 1947, whose dotage slowly erases his memory and spurs him to write about the last case which has precipitated his retirement 3 decades earlier about a grievous mother Ann (Morahan), meanwhile, he strikes a tender friendship with a young boy Roger Munro (Parker), the son of his housemaid Mrs. Munro (Linney).
The pattern is very similar with GODS AND MONSTERS, an erstwhile personage, now an outcast, tormented by his memories, befriends a young disciple, in this case through apiculture (sans the repressed sexual intention in GODS AND MONSTERS) and is rebuffed by his stern maid, not for his sexuality this time, but simply a mother’s selfish protection of her child from standing out like a sore thumb. Whilst Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson have been long out of the picture, to witness Mr. Holmes grappling with his physical and mental deterioration makes the film ever so melancholic, not to mention the accident falls upon Roger in the third act, so sudden and unforeseeable, yet it also brings about McKellen’s finest performances as an old man swamped by guilt and grief, whose unparalleled intelligence is hampered by his decaying physicality, in the movie’s most devastating moment, there he shines, definitely another Oscar-worthy endeavor for Mr. McKellen.
Speaking of a film about Sherlock Holmes, how can one not discuss the mysterious cases? There are three of them, Ann’s case, Roger’s apiarian accident and a visit to Hiroshima looking for a plant called prickly ash, which is beneficial to memory lost. Nevertheless if one is habitually expecting an engaging mystery-solving detective procedural, none of the three can be even remotely called adequate. For preference, screenwriter Hatcher substantially removes the halo out of Sherlock’s legendary tale, and offers a realistic take to restore the mundanity of a detective’s life and his case (not so often deductive reasoning is needed both in his life and work, especially without Dr. Watson’s embellished account). This methods works to an extent, it channels viewers to go through a more plaintive rite-of-passage than we might expect, but it also cripples the sap of an aesthetically shot period drama who at first lures us in with a tantalizing promise of an intricate mind-game.
Laura Linney strives to challenge Lynn Redgrave’s Oscar-nominated role, as solid as ever for her standard but with less impact, while Milo Parker, is the young scene-stealer and a heart-stealer as well, whose sensible, intelligent and earnest presence constructs a perfect equilibrium with McKellen’s sagacious brain but frail condition. Also Hattie Morahan, greatly emotive in her scenes where revealing Ann’s self-destructive disposition, being the victim of sheer loneliness, her upshot would bring food for thought and eventually a drastic alteration for such a brilliant mind.
Finally, in the light of the current murky status of the leading actor competition, McKellen could be a potential dark horse in the race, for that, I will advocate adamantly.