Amongst the current resurgence of all things Sherlock Holmes over the past few years, it’s quite likely that most viewers might find themselves all Sherlock-ed out. From modern television shows to action film adaptations, audiences have been pummeled with various incarnations of the fictional sleuth that seem to have wrung out every possible ounce of originality from Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. Bill Condon’s (The Fifth Estate) Mr. Holmes proves though that the well is not completely dry just yet.
Ian McKellen stars as a version of the great detective that has never really been explored: that of a retired Sherlock, nearing the end of his days. Secluded in his country home, the former celebrity decides to piece together his own story to attempt to correct the misconceptions of Watson’s fictitious tales. But with his mind failing, he becomes fixated on piecing together the clues of his very last case some thirty years earlier, which was the cause of retirement.
McKellen revels in the role, bringing a richness and depth to a character that so often turns into a caricature. Without a great nemesis such as Moriarty to drive his quest, Sherlock finds that it is himself that is his true last enemy. Filled with the regret of past mistakes, McKellen brings subtle nuances to this elderly Sherlock that sways between moments of brilliance and senility.
While the normal supporting characters such as Watson and Mrs. Hudson are relegated to mere background cameos, Sherlock’s challenging relationship with his housekeeper played by Laura Linney (Mystic River), and her son Roger (Milo Parker) take centre stage. Linney is almost unrecognizable at times, completely assuming the identity of a widowed single-mother with a performance that is quite understated. And relative newcomer Parker, brings a youthful joy and innocence as he dotes on the once great detective.
Fans of current shows like Sherlock and Elementary may find the slowed down pace and the films penchant to linger on the more dramatic moments as dreary. Sherlock pieces together clues with a real sense of thought and deduction that contrasts against the quick, almost superhero-like power that other adaptations have relied on, which at times has seemed almost laughable. But Mr. Holmes makes a point to remind us that even the greatest men among us are just men, and like all men, must one day face their own mortality.
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