Film #180: Mr. Holmes (2015)

mr-holmes-movieDirector: Bill Condon
Language: English and a bit of Japanese
Length: 104 minutes
Watched on: 6 January 2016 (return flight 2/3)

Having been unlucky with my last plane movie selection, on my way back to Japan I was a bit more careful and tried to stick to things I’d heard good reviews of, so this movie was my second choice, already noted for Ian McKellen’s performance by other reviewers.

It’s a movie about Sherlock Holmes, but it adds the twist that he’s grown into an old man and is becoming senile. He lives in a hideaway in some rural part of southern England, near white cliffs so perhaps Kent, and busies himself with beekeeping. The story concerns him writing his memoirs, but being unable to recall the details of a particular incident that happened around the time he retired. He has a young servant boy who is his confidante and who helps him around the house – the actor for this character is very good at his job.

As with all Sherlock Holmes stories, there is a mystery, but in this case, there are actually three semi-interlocking plots, told in fragments, and deftly revealed gradually throughout the movie (the third is when an older Holmes travels to Japan to meet a businessman who blames him for the disappearance of his father). Sometimes movies try to do something like this, but I think the dementia aspect of the plot of this movie allowed the creators to experiment and do things that wouldn’t always work – it doesn’t feel clumsy when vital details are revealed to us late in the movie, because we are following the path of Holmes’ own mind.

Comparing it to other recent depictions of Sherlock Holmes, it doesn’t try to be slick or use a lot of CGI, which I appreciate. I did notice one of the solutions near the end, which wasn’t as well hidden as the others – when watching the BBC’s series, the solutions are either glaringly signposted, or so completely from left-field that I’m left bamboozled, and the ones in this movie were not. They were realistic. Reference is made directly to the Thing that Holmes does when he solves a mystery, when he starts noticing all the tiny details that no-one else does, but it’s not taken overboard, like in the Guy Ritchie movies.

Furthermore, as a depiction of the gradual descent into senility, it’s doing pretty well. I realized part of the way through that Ian McKellen is not as old as the character he is depicting on screen, and that he’s been made to look older using make-up, but it was a bit distressing seeing him going through the emotions associated with growing old. Not to mention being worried that McKellen himself will eventually grow old and senile, it reminded me that those such as my grandmother will do the same eventually.

One more thing is that the setting is well-depicted – I think it’s interbellum England and Japan – and believable in all the details. This adds to the movie’s credibility. I think this movie deserves any acclaim it gets. Perhaps it is not so profound or original as to be an instant classic, but I really liked it and will recommend it.

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