Mr Holmes Review

mr holmesToday 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.

mr holmes3At 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!).

mr holmes 6I 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.

mr holmes4I 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+

20 thoughts on “Mr Holmes Review

  1. I’m glad you decided to post about this today. I’m sorry for misusing the comment section but I just finished watching the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film. I know you and your family didn’t like that adaptation at all so I just wanted to discuss my thoughts.

    My brother is actually a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes books (he even had a giant volume of all the stories and novels written by Doyle). So when the movie came out he was very excited, saw it in the theater and had it on DVD as soon as it came out. So I actually watched most of the movie on his DVD back in 2010. But he actually gave me both movies last Christmas.

    At first I felt you were basically right. The movie felt too much like a modern action movie. And I should admit I didn’t particularly like the violent over-the-top deaths either, and thought they were unnecessary. I thought it made Holmes too much into a James Bond-esque hero.

    I have read one Sherlock Holmes story that was assigned for my homeschooling course: “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”. So my experience obviously isn’t that great, but just from that I felt I had been much much too hard on the film. The Adventure of the Speckled Band wasn’t an introverted quiet mystery. The mystery was barely important at all. Holmes and Watson did get directly involved in the action and it was very tense. The whole scene with Holmes being threatened by Roylott and barely reacting at all almost directly mirrors Downey and his reaction to Blackwood’s threats in jail. Holmes even shows his physical prowess by straightening out the metal rod that Roylott bent to scare him. And the way Roylott had murdered his own stepdaughter was very scary and over-the-top. Holmes even put himself in direct danger and in his own admission, “I am no doubt indirectly responsible for Dr. Grimesby Roylott’s death, and I cannot say that it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience.” Tell me you can’t imagine Robert Downey, Jr. reciting that line!

    Watching the Brett adaptation of that was actually odd in fact. It’s so easy to claim Watson is an unreliable narrator because of the stiff, formal tone he uses – he doesn’t describe conversations or events naturally as they occurred, he cleans them up for a scholarly analysis that he feels is presentable for the world. I think the writers of the show made a mistake by even keeping that dialogue intact rather than replacing it with something more natural. Plenty of Downey, Jr. and Law’s petty squabbles seem exactly like the kind of thing Watson wouldn’t like mentioning in magazines.

    It’s true there are too many standard action scenes, but men of this era weren’t pacifists. Watson was an army veteran, in fact. I’ll grant the movie was very Hollywood, but I did like it overall. It was a good story, and I think it actually did keep the tone of the stories intact well enough. It had a vivid portrait of Victorian London and Holmes’ deductions and mental work were portrayed well. The scene with him boxing was a bit too much in the direction of making cynical teenagers say to skeptical friends, “No, no, seriously, Holmes is actually a total badass, the film is awesome” but when I looked on Wikipedia Holmes actually was a boxer in the stories, and I believe this event in the film was actually alluded to at one point in the stories. It also explains how he would be versed in the fighting techniques he practices. I think Holmes’ battle with Moriarty in the stories shows he was prepared to defend himself physically, too.

    I know it is a Hollywood version, but I hope it isn’t too naive to say Guy Ritchie was trying to make a good Sherlock Holmes movie that a major studio would finance and would appeal to mass audiences. He did say that Holmes meant a lot to him as a child. Speaking as someone who dislikes shock/gore violence, wishes modern movies were more about story than action, that creativity could triumph over commerce, and substance over style, I thought it was at least a decent movie in its own right. The action scenes, particularly the one in the slaughterhouse, could be too much at times but it did have an interesting enough story and I liked it.

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  2. I’m sure the original stories are better but if Guy Ritchie’s films were exactly like them they would probably be criticized for just being extended short stories. In any case I have some of the older black-and-white movies as well as episodes of the black-and-white TV show in the 50s. I’ll be happy to contrast those.

    You have more experience with the original works, so you can just explain why I’m wrong.

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    1. It’s tough for me to respond because I haven’t seen the Downey movies in many years, so you will in no doubt remember details better than I do. Here’s the thing adding some action like fighting Dr Grimsey would have been fine. What I felt is they fundamentally changed the character of Holmes. While he’s certainly no pansy in the books (he does wrestle in one story I believe but it is not a fundamental character trait) it is his brain that makes him special. His super power you might say. That all get’s lost in Richie’s repeated use of Holmes dodging bullets in slow motion or jumping away from explosions. That’s not Sherlock Holmes to me or anyone in my family.
      They actually address Watson being an unreliable narrator in Mr Holmes so you might like that. I have no problem with those kind of interpretations. I also like the new Cumberbatch updated Holmes so I am by no means a purist. That new version keeps the spirit of the character. He is awkward, brutally honest and unconcerned with the world that doesn’t pertain to him. The Downey version is oddly rather ordinary even in his interactions with Jude Law. It doesn’t feel like an especially unusual person just someone who is messy. Same with the romantic endeavors they throw in which in the book he is completely aesexual except for Irena Addler but nothing ever happens with that. Again that is all something that makes him unusual and different and the Downey version looses that.
      The Downey versions I felt were more like watching the old Mummy movies or something like that with the dashing hero stumbling on the clues to the supernatural case (or even Indiana Jones movie feel). That’s not what I want in my Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes should be about the case that he is able to see leads too that nobody else can. Not explosions, gunshots in slow motion and chase scenes.
      As far as Jeremy Brett versions I think that is a very traditional take on the stories and not all of the seasons are equally strong. I’ve seen a few that aren’t good at all although I think Brett is always good. It is BBC and PBS so I look at it like Downton Abbey. Sure maybe people didn’t talk like that all the time but for the genre it works and I enjoy it. Regardless Brett captures that enthusiasm for the cases and the slyness Holmes needs to outwit all who come in his path.
      Anyway, those are my thoughts.
      As far as this movie it is a great performance from McKellen and he makes it feel like he could have lived that long. Certainly some people who smoke pipes and have terrible lifestyle choices manage to live for long periods so that didn’t bother me at all. It’s a slightly different take on the character but nothing that was so stark it bothered me. It was just a little slow in its pacing but I thought the case seemed like Holmes and as I said McKellen was good. So I’d say worth seeing but no masterpiece.
      I also have no doubt that Guy Ritchie was trying to make a good movie. I think all filmmakers start out trying to make something good and it’s not like it is the worst movie I’ve ever seen, just not my cup of tea. I don’t think there has been a Sherlock Holmes movie that hasn’t done well at the box office so I doubt the studio needed much selling. It is a character that in nearly every incantation from anime to Masterpiece theater has done well. I think he added all the special effects and explosions because that’s what Ritchie does in all his movies. Not because he needed to include it to sell modern audiences on Sherlock Holmes. I mean look at Benedict Cumberbatch series? Nothing could be more popular and despite being modernized it stays very close to the original tone and story arc of the character. So Ritchie made the movie he wanted to make but it just wasn’t my favorite. They did very well so evidently a lot of people felt differently. That’s cool.
      Anyway, those are my thoughts on the movie.

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      1. Thank you for doing such a good job replying to my every point!

        I didn’t like the scene with the explosion either. To refresh your memory they don’t jump away from the explosion, they actually get quite injured in it, and Watson even ends up in the hospital. I still dislike the scene because they should in all rights be dead.

        It does actually serve a purpose to the plot, though. I think the film definitely does show Holmes finding leads that no one else can see. Despite the action, I think this did remain the focus. Most people wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything else except the pain and fear of just having been through an explosion, but Holmes is still dead set on the case. He uses the experience to think about how it had occurred and made the connection with flammable liquid having been planted on Standish. The second major fight scene also occurred as an interruption for Holmes’ deductions: we see him caught in his own mind, making theories about Blackwood’s apartment for some time before the goons show up and the fact he has to fight them then comes off as a petty inconvenience/interruption of his work.

        The climax is centered just as much around the action as it is Holmes explaining carefully how he figured out everything that went on in the movie. You have a very good point about his quirks not being portrayed that well. We do see him have problems interacting socially in the scene with Watson’s fiancee when he offends her to the point she pours wine on him. I can understand her coming off worse than him to you in this scene, though, since he only does it after she repeatedly goads him, he wanted to keep the deductions about Watson to be safe. But this does show awkwardness and brutal honesty; we also see him say he is unconcerned with the world that doesn’t pertain to him when Watson badgers him to stop hiding in his room after 2 weeks. (They used some of his quotes from the books, too like “My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me clues, give me work.”

        It does seem unusual and different that anyone would stay locked in their room for 2 weeks and shoot Queen Victoria’s symbol into his own wall, or hang himself to figure out the last clue to a mystery. I can’t see James Bond or Indiana Jones doing those things.

        Hollywood hadn’t made a big screen version of Sherlock Holmes since 1985 with Young Sherlock Holmes and that barely managed to make back its budget. I don’t think Ritchie needed to include special effects and explosions. I think the Hollywood studio heads were convinced they did, and that’s probably why they hired Ritchie in particular because he was happy to go along with it. Directors who wanted a different approach would probably have stepped down or been rejected. I point to Guillermo Del Toro’s failed attempt to adapt Wind in the Willows in 2003. He left because the executives wanted him to “give Toad a skateboard and make him say ‘radical dude’ things”. They felt it was necessary to make Holmes appeal to modern viewers, and I don’t agree with this mentality. It’s why too many good scripts have been rejected for not being mainstream.

        I think Ritchie did enjoy trying to make the films into action movies, though. If I had read more of the stories I might feel differently and I can understand why you’re so passionate about it being the wrong interpretation. I just think they did the best they could with that approach at least. If you think the approach is wrong in and of itself, nothing will change your mind. I don’t love the style. There are times I really rolled my eyes at it, I hated the explosion, just think they did the best they could and if the original stories didn’t exist it would be a good movie in its own right.

        P.S. Sherlock Holmes probably does have the mental toughness to make it to 93. I don’t think Don Draper does.

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      2. Fair enough. All I know is when I saw the movie all I remembered was Holmes and explosions and slow motion bullets and romancing women. It wasn’t the Holmes I knew and love. They do the deductions in his head but it wasn’t enough for me for the tone of the character and story. Plus, the supernatural elements of the case did not feel satisfying at all. Again felt more like the Mummy or Indiana Jones looking at clues and finding the treasure. Something like the hanging scene was more minor where the action was more primary part of the movie. That was how the movies left me not any kind of equality like you say. Definitely in the second one for sure.
        I do not feel that Ritchie made the movies the way he did because of the studio at all. That’s the way all of his movies are. He wanted to bring Rock N’Rola, Snatch and Lock Stock to Sherlock Holmes. It’s his style and I think that most directors do the best they can. That doesn’t mean I have to like the end product. I’m sure George Lucas did the best he could on the prequels and I hate those. Sherlock Holmes is like Batman every so often they will have a version whether it is TV or in movies. It is a known franchise that sells tickets/gets viewers.
        Especially in the second one there was so many ducking the slow motion bullets and action junk it became boring.
        They didn’t work for me but if you enjoyed them that is awesome. I like my Sherlock awkward and brilliant not an action star.

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      3. I might not like the sequel that much even though my brother assured me it was very good too.

        I don’t think Holmes really was attracted to Irene romantically, either. Holmes has the sexist values of his period and accordingly he finds Irene a fascinating exception. He marvels at her very presence and sees her as an interesting new specimen to be probed. I believe Watson actually said in the books that “To Holmes she is always the woman.”

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      4. In the end tone is a tricky beast and some things just miss it. It’s just like some comedies can have all the right ingredients but not be funny. Downey had the right ingredients but didn’t seem like Sherlock Holmes to me.

        Mr Holmes on the other hand had a tone that worked for Sherlock even though it took some chances. Same with the Benedict Cumberbatch version (and even Great Mouse Detective). All of those have the tone of a Sherlock Holmes to me.

        But to each their own.

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      5. I think Jeremy Brett did portray Holmes much better. Downey’s fake accent was irritating at times and I think they could have hired a better actor.

        I do like The Great Mouse Detective a lot. That was my first introduction to Sherlock Holmes, in fact. My aunt enjoyed it too and I have many fond memories of watching it with her as a young child in her back room. She obviously felt it did have the tone down well, because she was a fan of the Brett show and was upset and didn’t want to watch the 2009 movie when I told her there was violence in it. And she had been planning to go downtown and watch it just to relax…..

        She didn’t want me to read any of the stories as a child, though, because she told me they were too scary.

        The tone wasn’t that of a traditional Sherlock Holmes adaptation. It did match the gothic mystery atmosphere of The Speckled Band enough for me, though. That may not be one of the typical stories, but it was Conan Doyle’s personal favorite. In fact, I thought the formal, controlled and relaxed tone in the Brett adaptation actually seemed a bit out of place for the material, particularly with how calmly Roylott threatened Holmes in the beginning.

        In the end, I do agree with you about some of it. If I’d read more of the stories I might agree with you about all of it. I’m basically just reviewing it on Roger Ebert’s scale of what is a movie trying to do. “The great detective, who has survived so much, can certainly shrug off a few special effects.”

        You can take Gene Siskel’s response, of course: “A film that aims low should not be rewarded for hitting that mark.”

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      6. If you check out Mr Holmes let me know what you think. It’s not perfect but has some good things about it.

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  3. As for this movie, it seems interesting but I have a hard time imagining Holmes living to age 93. People in the Victorian era didn’t tend to have long lives, and all that pipe tobacco can’t be good for your health.

    I think Matthew Weiner originally claimed Mad Men would end with Don Draper as a 89-year-old man in the present, and I’m glad they changed that because I think most Mad Men fans find it hard to imagine him still being alive.

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  4. So, I thought the film was fair/decent enough. It wasn’t anything spectacular and I don’t think it was trying to be. I feel the intent was to have a sort of simple story and just see how Holmes deals with aging and memory loss.

    I don’t fully understand why the woman killed herself in front of the train and why Holmes feels it was his fault. Ian McKellan did a wonderful job as the aging Holmes. All in all, it was a fair, enjoyable film. Nothing more than that.

    I’m just wondering now whether this director will do justice to that Beauty and the Beast remake next year.

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    1. Yeah I basically agree about this film. I didn’t realize it was the same director as Beauty and the Beast. It’s a solid film and McKellan is so good. I had some of the same issues about the woman, train and Holmes abandoning his practice because of that. And I didn’t think Laura Linney was very good in it.
      I guess in the end it is a fine film but nothing spectacular. I agree.

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