Most people who are familiar with Sherlock Holmes probably owe that to Benedict Cumberbatch or Robert Downey Jr. in their action-packed, thrillers that show off the more adventurous side of the character. Mr. Holmes, which was adapted from the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, takes the character of Arthur Conan Doyle and places him in his twilight years with a splendid performance by Ian McKellen, allowing us a glimpse at an entirely new side of the master sleuth.
The case involved in Mr. Holmes, that of a young woman who appears to be going mad with grief and planning to kill her husband, does not have the sexiness that we are currently used to. In his 90s, Sherlock still holds a celebrity status—he receives fan-mail, letters in which people still try to procure his services, and they make movies featuring his adventures much like in reality. The case serves as a means to allow for us to focus on the waning years of the brilliant detective as we see his memory slowly deteriorating as his body ages and his mind follows. There are still moments of his genius, but it is a heartbreaking process to see him falter with even the simplest of recollections.
McKellen brings Holmes into a whole new level of reality. Playing him both in his 90s as well as his late 50s, McKellen is able to infuse both ages with that quick wit and biting bluntness that we are so used to from other incarnations. Though he was mostly a loner in his younger life, he really is alone now aside from his housekeeper (Laura Linney,) and her son (Milo Parker.) Watson has passed on, as has his brother and Mrs. Hudson. He struggles with simple tasks, and McKellen captures this painful deterioration with exceptional accuracy. It wouldn’t surprise me if this gets him nominated for an Oscar, though it might be a little far out for it to be in contention.
Linney and Parker, the other two main players in the film, are both excellent as well. Linney, much like a revamped Mrs. Hudson, is the reluctant caretaker of an aging, troublesome Holmes. She appears crotchety, but underneath her is a caring person who simply wants the best for her son. Parker, who is everything we’d want to be in a potential Holmes successor, is a determined and curious boy who wants more for he and his mom. He has a knack for snooping, but he just wants to be like Holmes. He is the only thing that Holmes can really hold onto in his loneliness, and their relationship is one of tenderness and mutual respect.
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most complex characters in both literature and film, though we never really got a chance to see him not in action. Mr. Holmes may not be the most exciting incarnation of Doyle’s character, but it is definitely one of the most poignant and well-acted.