Mr. Holmes (UK/USA, 2015)

Mr.-Holmes-925758132sDirected by: Bill Condon. So it turns out this is the same guy who directed the Twilight movies, so there you go. Even with that knowledge, though, nothing could have kept me from seeing this movie eventually. Normally I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see it in theatres, but I was bored one Saturday night and it was between this, Jurassic Park 3D, Ant-Man 3D, some movie I didn’t know anything about, or this weird movie based on a novel about Sherlock Holmes as an old man losing his memory, which I’d read about like a year ago and always meant to see. To make matters better, someone had left a ticket at the debit machine, and after looking around for the owner (for an admittedly short time), I waltzed in, with a pretty positive disposition to this film. And overall, I was pretty pleased with what I saw. This is definitely not a “Sherlock Holmes” story, though, be warned. It’s far too sentimental and family-drama for anything coming from Conan Doyle, but by now, after the Guy Ritchie movies, the BBC series, and the American series (which is my personal line in the sand), the average Holmes enthusiast ought to be used to the liberal reinterpretation of the source material, and like me, softened up just enough to enjoy something like this. And really, it’s a pretty respectful and interesting treatment of this literary world—the author is obviously a fan, and he balances the traditions laid down by the source with just the right amount of creative license to give fans a little spark of imagination. We get to see Holmes as an old man, which means Holmes in a postwar world, with the ruins of Spitfire planes still dotting the countryside; we get to see Holmes travel abroad to Japan, expanding the world of the books to a pretty modern scope; and most of all, we get to see Holmes lose his memory, the crux of the story, and the part that intrigued me to see this. Built into the story, as well, is a whole theme about emotion, and the film is actually just using Holmes’ memory problems to facilitate the actual crux of the story—the perennial juggling act between Holmes’ piercing intellect, and the extent to which he can bond meaningfully on a human level with the people around him. That aspect of the relationship between Holmes and Watson (and Mrs Hudson and Mycroft, for that matter), is a huge part of what makes the stories so interesting in the first place, and it’s been picked up by all of the re-interpretations over the years. In this film, Watson is gone (and, interestingly, his face not even shown in flashback), and Holmes is foiled against the extremely nice, but intellectually quaint housekeeper (Laura Linney), and her 10-year-old (or so) son, whom Holmes views as a potential protege, with potential for keen intelligence. The thing about this movie is that you’re not quite sure what kind of movie it is, because it’s fairly unusual, unfolding over conflicting subjective memories, fictional filmic adaptations, and multiple timelines, all of them encompassed by a pre-set literary world. But at the climax, the child’s attack by bees (or maybe not bees?), where utter tragedy hangs in the air, a bold move for a movie as sentimental as this, the film retreats into familiar family drama territory. The kid’s okay, Holmes forgives himself for his emotional coldness which froze out so many past relationships, and Holmes also comes around to accepting the simple housekeeper and her son as the family he never had. The final shot is Holmes adopting some bastardized eastern grieving ritual he picked up in Japan, surrounding himself with stones (makeshift headstones), and kind of mock-worshipping the wind/sun/Gaia Earth Mother in general, as a helicopter shot pulls away to reveal a beautiful vista of a cliff and the ocean, and the beauty of nature. Basically, it’s a TV movie ending for moms, and I half wanted them to just slap some yoga pants on old Sherlock so he could harness his Victorian chakras into harmony with all of the good “feels” he’s learned to embrace. Reimaginings aside, this was a side of Sherlock Holmes that no one wanted or needed to see, and that, frankly, I’m bewildered by. Was this what the author imagined Sherlock’s last days to be? Surely, now that I think of it, and now that any of us think of it, Sherlock’s last days were destined to be lonely and sad, at the end of an opium overdose, frankly. And obviously, this movie was never going to do that, so I should have known better. This was an enjoyable movie, but really, mostly for the great performance that Ian McKellan gives—he’s a bit exaggerated, a frumpy, grumpy, frail old codger, but I could watch him all day. What a fantastic actor, really. On the other hand, I’m not so sure about poor Laura Linney in this movie. I’m sure I’ve seen her in great stuff before (can’t remember right now), but this movie isn’t it. I kept getting the impression that they should have gotten Kristin Scott Thomas for this role and it would have been a bit more intelligent. Frankly, they should have gotten a Brit, because as good as she tried, Linney’s West Country accent is a bit…I dunno. I won’t say she didn’t do a good job of it, but I have to assume that, to a Brit’s ears, it was just not quite there, and to most North American ears—at least judging by the murmurings in the theatre—it’s unrecognizable as any kind of British accent, easily mistaken for a bad American Irish, with all of the hard “r’s”. Anyway, definitely a good addition to the Sherlockian nerd-canon, but as with all of these things, it just makes me want to go back and read those stories again, and indeed, I think I shall.


2 responses to “Mr. Holmes (UK/USA, 2015)

  1. Pingback: Remember (Canada, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

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