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Movie Review of the Week: “Mr. Holmes”

Movie Review of the Week: “Mr. Holmes”
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By Alison Bailes

Watching Sir Ian McKellen play an aging eminence grise brings many joys…but also a heavy heart. How much longer will we have to enjoy this masterful actor who brings so much humor, emotion and gravitas to his roles?

At the age of 76, McKellen is riding a high of popular success (as Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies, Magneto in the “X-Men” franchise) but continues to surprise us with probing work in smaller films such as “Mr. Holmes”.  Shockingly, McKellen has yet to win an Oscar, but his first nomination came in 1998 for playing the film director James Whale in Bill Condon’s “Gods and Monsters”.  So it’s not surprising that he is working once again with Condon (“Dreamgirls”, “Kinsey”) here.  There are also striking similarities between the two films in their exploration of elderly men reflecting back on their lives.

It almost seems odd that McKellen hasn’t played the great detective Sherlock Holmes before now and with the glut of Sherlockian projects around lately, he has perhaps steered clear. “Mr. Holmes”, adapted from the novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin, takes a different approach. Not so much a gripping tale of sleuthing, this gentle drama takes on issues of memory, legacy and regret.

Holmes, now 93 years old in 1947 England lives quietly in the country, looked after by a war widow Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney, miscast as a working class, pragmatic Brit) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker). Roger is keen to pick Holmes’ brain and hear stories of his youthful escapades. As for Holmes, he would rather spend time tending to his beehives and writing his memoirs. But his mind is failing him and memories starting to fade. One particular case from his past haunts him and he is determined to remember the details for posterity. Holmes also battles his public persona that lives on larger than life. On a recent trip to Japan, he disappoints his hosts when he shows up sans deerstalker and pipe.

Much of “Mr. Holmes” revolves around the idea of the Sherlock mystique that has been fossilized (and exaggerated) in books of his exploits written by his former partner Dr. John Watson.  Holmes even slips into a cinema one night to watch a film version of one of those books and the layers of reality and fiction start to mingle.

It is almost impossible not to be in awe of McKellen’s oeuvre and mindful of his past triumphs. Similarly, one has a built-in admiration watching Holmes, even as the character struggles to search his foggy mind for the questions that haunt him. This is not your speedy, flashy Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. “Mr. Holmes” proceeds at a leisurely pace with faultless logic. Much like the great detective himself.

 

 

 

 

 

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