Friday, August 7, 2015

Mr. Holmes Review

For many people, there's a point where fictional characters become as real as their friends and family thanks to the kind of emotional connection they feel to these fictional creations. Maybe it stems from solid writing or some really funny one-liners, but whatever the case, such fictional entities suddenly take on a life of their own. Mr. Holmes takes this sort of phenomenon one step further, telling a tale of the real Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen), whose had his detective skills turned into books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The idea of taking fictional characters and plopping them into the real world is regular storytelling fodder for family film adaptations of popular TV shows or comic strips (see: The Smurfs or Fat Albert), but Mr. Holmes goes in a different direction with that premise, with Holmes always having lived in the realm of reality instead of dealing with a fish-out-of-water crisis that those other films went for. As one might imagine, a Bill Condon drama also deals with weightier themes than  a 2011 feature involving Hank Azaria urinating into a houseplant.

Mr. Holmes streamlines its plot by squarely focusing on an elderly Holmes, suffering from memory problems, attempting to recall the last case of his detective career that ended three decades prior. This means the entire film live or dies based on how well Ian McKellen does in the role of the worlds most famous detective, and in the shocker of the century, McKellen turns in some top-notch work in his portrayal of Holmes in the both of the stages of his life (at age 63 and 93) that the story takes the character into.

What I enjoyed about McKellens portrayal of the two versions of Holmes (one obviously far younger than the other) is the way he concocts similarities and disparities between the two stages of his life. His older version of the character has an immense amount of pain to carry around, but you can still see the glimmer of wit and intelligence seep into his facial expressions that flourished in his younger years. And lemme tell ya, seeing McKellen convey the more sorrowful sequences of this character really is a marvel to watch, the man just knows how to create believable and devastating pain.

A strong focus on Sherlock and his quest to remember details of an adventure from years gone by means there's little time to develop a robust supporting cast, though I do wish his housekeeper (played by Laura Linney, putting on a Scottish cast), who figures heavily into the story, got more development. She struck me as too one-note in the first half of the film before some of the final plot points add some depth to her character. But that particulate caveat (as well as some inconsistent pacing) doesn't muddy up the fact that Mr. Holmes struck me as a pleasing examination of one of the most famous fictional characters of all-time, adding humanity and nuance to a well-known detective that Ian McKellen does wonders with portraying.

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