Eat your heart out, Benedict.
Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has seen, done and been through it all. That’s why, at age 93 and after being long retired, he’s finally ready to just settle down, take care of his bees, and let life continue on a peaceful, easy-going manner. But for some reason, he just can’t seem to get past that final case of his, which he didn’t get a chance to solve, or make perfect sense of. No matter that, though, he’s got the company of his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son (Milo Parker), who not only try to help him remember certain events and details of that case, but also remind him that life is still a bit grand worth living, even if he can seem to be a bit on the grumpy side. Through this all though, Holmes just wants to feel better about his life and look back on his legacy with a smile and pleased heart, even if he doesn’t feel like the media or Watson has portrayed him as true-to-nature; something that continues to follow him, even until this very day.
There’s so much of Sherlock Holmes nowadays that, honestly, it’s a bit suffocating. Robert Downey Jr.’s brought him back to his old-school roots where he kicked ass, got sexy women, and always seemed to solve the cases no matter what. Benedict Cumberbatch’s borders on being autistic, while also maintaining something of a love story with his fellow friend/partner, Watson. And there’s Jonny Lee Miller’s who is, for the most part, the generic one who solves crimes, says witty things, has a solid banter with Watson, and mostly, just does what we tend to expect from Sherlock Holmes nowadays. But these are mostly all young fellows playing the famed detective – what about the older ones out there?
Well, that’s where Sir Ian McKellen steps in and well, it’s just as you expected: Wise, funny, and most importantly, cranky.
And it should go with saying that no matter how much I jump down the throat of Mr. Holmes, it is in no way because of McKellen or the performance he gives. Because, unsurprisingly to some, he’s actually a perfect fit as the older, much more reserved Holmes who has seen almost all of life pass him by, isn’t fully willing to accept it and still has a feeling that he can make a difference in the world. That McKellen’s Holmes is getting older and on the verge of death, it’s already enough to tug at the heart-strings, but McKellen doesn’t beg or plead for your sympathy; in his own way, his Holmes is still pretty bad-ass and cool, even if we don’t see him karate-chop someone, or actually solve any crimes perfectly.
In a way, we just see him acting and being an old man, which is more than enough to give McKellen plenty to work with and show different sides of this Holmes character that we think we already know so much about.
Issue is, Mr. Holmes doesn’t always have the best idea of what to do with itself. Director Bill Condon is a solid enough director to know how to make his picture look as handsome as an episode of Downton Abbey, but he loses himself a bit here with there being so many strands of a story here, that it’s hard to pick between which ones are more interesting than others, or better yet, actually meaningful in the long-run. Of course, we all know that Holmes is trying to test his memory and remind himself of this final case that he never got a chance to solve, but then, there’s a few other subplots concerning Japanese people and the housemaid, as well as her son. Condon seems to have a lot on his plate here, which shouldn’t have been such a difficult job to handle in the first place, but it seems like even he gets a bit confused of which story deserves the most focus and attention to make the best impact.
The housemaid story, with Laura Linney and Milo Parker playing her son, seems exactly as if it was ripped directly out from McKellen and Condon’s last team-up, Gods and Monsters, and it feels a tad lazy, not to mention, obvious. There are some moments of tender sweetness, which is mostly due to the fact that McKellen can’t help but look adorable in his “old man” make-up, but overall, it comes and goes as you expect it to happen. Kid will be interested by Holmes; Holmes will be stand-off-ish towards kid; kid and Holmes will find a way to connect; Holmes fully trusts kid; and yeah, you get the picture after this. It’s predictable and doesn’t feel as fully-developed as it probably could have been to help keep this story interesting.
And then, there’s the case itself which, quite frankly, didn’t really deserve the treatment it gets here.
Most of this is due to the fact that Condon starts the film off by making it so abundantly clear that this final case is what seems to be itching and screwing with Holmes, even until this very day. Because of this, the expectations for this case are already through the roof and once we eventually do find out what really happened with the case, why it didn’t get solved, and what sort of revelations came about after it, it can’t help but disappoint. It seems as if it was also an easy road for Condon himself to take, had he not really wanted to go as deep and dark into Holmes’ past as he may have wanted to; instead, we just focus on a possible love of his life and leave it at that.
Do we learn anymore about Holmes than we already know from the countless other media outlets?
No, not really. But hey, at least we do know that he is capable of getting old!
Consensus: Despite McKellen’s sweet and tender performance as the aging, title character, Mr. Holmes doesn’t really know what to make of its many stories, how they connect, or why they matter so much in the first place.
3.5 / 10