Today I had the day off of work and before I drove up to Bear Lake for a race tomorrow I decided to see the new movie Mr Holmes. If some of you have been reading for a while you might remember in my Great Mouse Detective review talking about my family’s love for Sherlock Holmes. We love all the versions except Robert Downy and we talk about it seemingly without end. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw a new movie was coming up about an older Holmes starring the great Ian McKellen.
Mr Holmes is definitely a mixed bag for me but the good parts are very good. To begin with Ian McKellen is wonderful as Holmes. He manages to pull off a wide range of ages and feel authentic and real in all of them. He’s a little different than our typical Holmes. In this world Watson has embellished him quite a bit (he’s never worn a bowler hat and doesn’t smoke a pipe for instance). This Holmes is less bombastic. He is thoughtful and quiet and seems more mentally stable.
At the beginning he has returned from a trip from Japan and is at his home which is a honeybee farm. Laura Linney plays his beleaguered housekeeper trying to raise her son Roger who is a sweet inquisitive kid who is comfortable making friends with adults. He has an interest in honeybees and so Holmes and him strike a bond with each other. He also loves Holmes’ writing and encourages to write a story about his last case. This is difficult because his memory is leaving him more each day. He can’t even remember why he went to Japan but we do get bits of that through the story.
You end up with a lot of storylines. There’s the storyline of Holmes and the boy, of his last case, of Linney and moving to Porstmouth, and Holmes’ trip to Japan. Director Bill Condon takes a huge step up from Twilight but it is a very leisurely paced movie and a few of the sideplots aren’t as compelling as others. I am sure that many, less patient viewers, will find this to be boring. I didn’t but I can see that. (There was a man at my theater snoring very loudly!).
I hate to say it but a big problem with this movie is Laura Linney isn’t very good. She’s flat, unemotive, wooden and her accent isn’t convincing at all. She’s someone who I normally think of as such a great actress but I was looking at her imdb and it is actually a while since she gave a great performance. There was the Big C on TV which I hated and then the great John Adams miniseries in 2008, but for movies I have to go back to 2007’s Breach to find a movie of hers I like. It’s so strange. I wonder why this has happened because she definitely has the acting chops and yet has been in an 8 year slump. It’s not good. It’s funny how certain actors can maintain a reputation but when you look at it they’ve been in a lot of turkeys.
Regardless of her career, she isn’t good in Mr Holmes. She doesn’t create a convincing character and that is made all the more apparent by the comparison to McKellen who is so great in the movie. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he gets nominated for an Oscar for this performances. He’s subtle and funny and believable in the part. He’s the reason to see the movie and makes it a fun experience.
I really liked the story of his last case and putting the pieces together. It had an emotional heft to it without verging into melodrama. I don’t want to give anything away but Hattie Morahan who plays the female in the old case is very good. She doesn’t say much but her expressions are very haunting. (I also learned what a glass armonica was from this movie. Had never heard of that weird instrument).
The cinematography by Tobias A Schliessler was really nice . You couldn’t blame Holmes for retreating with his bees to such a beautiful place. It also captures Japan in 1947 fresh from the war very well.
Unfortunately the ending is a bit heavy-handed and there is a lot of telling rather than showing but still McKellen is so strong it is entertaining. It is far from a perfect but I enjoyed it. I think if you go you will like it too- especially if you are a big Sherlock Holmes fan like I am. It’s worth going just to see a great actor in an iconic role. If any of you see it I would be curious for your thoughts.
Overall Grade- C+