Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mr Holmes

Short version: This is a beautiful, superbly acted, bittersweet tale. It is very British, and very indie. It manages to be wonderfully true to the Sherlock Holmes character without simply being another Sherlock Holmes mystery. The big screen is worth it for all the scenery, but if you'd rather wait you won't miss any of the story.

I'm certain that most of my readers had the same reaction to the trailer that I did. Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes? That's all I need to hear. And he certainly does not disappoint. His younger Holmes bears far more resemblance to Basil Rathbone than to either Cumberbatch or Downey. He is dapper, controlled, and impressive. His older Holmes, though, is heart-breaking: A man at the end of his life, crippled by twin evils of arthritis and senility. As I grapple with several of my own loved ones entering (or leaving) their twilight years, it really hit home. I was honestly watching him hobble into his home and thought, "I don't remember Ian McKellen being so old". And then there were flashbacks, proving that he was not. As Jon Lovitz was fond of saying, "Acting!"

Laura Linney also provided a marvelous performance as Holmes' long-suffering housekeeper. She is also the mother of the young Roger, who becomes quite infatuated with the famous detective. She struggles between loyalty to her employer and loyalty to her family. She also struggles with raising a young boy who has unrealistic dreams that she cannot understand. Linney manages to convey emotions that are simple, but powerful in their simplicity.

The young Milo Parker also does an excellent job as the boy, Roger. He is willful, intelligent, curious, and arrogant in a way unique to 12-year-old boys. It appears that he's already been tapped for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, so I expect to see much more of him in the future.

The script was also exceptionally well done. I certainly do not claim to be a Holmes scholar, but I have read my fair share and seen a wide range of adaptations. This story manages to capture the essence of the Holmes character, and to explore the flaws that live there. Those flaws are essential to the plot, in fact. The movie also celebrates the brilliance of Holmes, and presents one of his famous mysteries. And yet it is not a typical Holmes tale. He is not chasing an elusive master criminal, but rather his own elusive memories. He is not engaging in a battle of wits, but a battle of wisdom. At the end of his days, the great detective's most baffling case is humanity itself.

One cannot describe this movie without doing at least passing homage to the amazing visuals. The scenery, the sets, the costuming, it was all brilliant. From the beauty of the English countryside to the horror of, well, that would be a spoiler. It was all lush, engaging, and emotionally moving.

As it has become something of a theme of mine to note the feminist points, I should pause to note that this film does not do particularly well in this regard. It fails the Bechdel Test spectacularly. Not only do two women not have a meaningful conversation, I can't think of a scene that actually contains two named women. It does pass the Mako Mori Test quite well, though. Mrs. Munro, Laura Linney's character, has quite the character arc. It wouldn't take a particularly ardent feminist, though, to point out that her character is not exactly challenging any stereotypes.

As you can suppose, I do strongly recommend seeing it. It is an indie film and a character sketch, so you may want to see it in a more intimate format than a movie theater. But I have to say that the aforementioned visuals do make the large screen format pay off.

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