Or, Sherlock Holmes & The Case Of The Replacement Hip
On paper, this sounds fantastic – taking an elderly but iconic actor of our times in Sir Ian McKellen (X-Men: Days Of Future Past & The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies) and giving him the opportunity to provide a new angle on an old character in Sherlock Holmes. It sounds pretty damn amazing no? Well, in perhaps a slight disappointment, this marriage in Mr. Holmes doesn’t reach those lofty heights of hyperbole and merely stays at the mere ‘good’ level with content throughout.
Having been retired for 35 years, an elderly Sherlock Holmes has returned from a trip to Japan with a hopeful cure to curb his memory loss. With his dear friend and biographer Dr. Watson gone, Sherlock keeps to himself in his Sussex retreat, tends to his bees and makes work for his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney, The Big C) & her spirited son Roger (Milo Parker). Whilst he battles against his ravaged 93 year old mind and frail body, he attempts to recall the true events behind his last case, involving a mourning wife in the twilight of his career, to provide some clarity and give himself peace of mind before he dies.
I think the problem which stops Mr. Holmes from ascending to a higher lever of quality & grading is that no real aspect gets above merely good. The draw of course to see this movie at all is Sir Ian as Sherlock… and it’s fine. He has to pull off many different aspects and ages to the same character, to which he does so with much care and consideration. We see Holmes at his most forgetful with a confused demeanour to life to when he still retained the cocky charm of his detective prowess to a man gripped by failure. There’s plenty covered well… and yet there’s probably not enough of any individual one to present to a cinemagoer and say “This is an amazing aspect to Sherlock Holmes’ psyche which McKellen does superbly.” It’s not a fault in the performance but the range spreads the character out thinly so Sir Ian I don’t feel has a great opportunity to elevate any moment to a stunning emotional climax which we know he is more than capable of. And when you consider that this is a film where Sir Ian McKellen is taking on the guise of possibly the greatest detective in popular culture, it’s not good enough. I honestly felt that we deserve better from the formula on paper.
The direction by Bill Condon is a welcome change after I watched his last couple of films in The Fifth Estate & The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. Despite a wide spectrum of storylines that you do wonder what’s the point of them all being placed in front of us, Condon strikes a fine balances in the end which invokes a decent amount of thought & themes and, giving credit where credit is due, I’ve seen way dodgier handling of complexities such as degeneration resulting from aging & failure. Shame he goes and botches it by hurriedly making a mess of completing the ‘modern day’ mystery of what’s happening with Holmes’ bees then. Of course! It’s a Sherlock Holmes film! We must have him solve a mystery! It’s tacked on, rushed and out of nowhere which gives an unnecessary vibe. I guess it’s meant to give some sort of dramatic ending between Holmes and his modern day compatriots, but I’m not buying it. Shame because plentiful bounty is to be had from Holmes’ relationship with Roger in an adopted father/son way. I’m sold on the idea of Holmes wanting to nurture this boy with a bit of a brain from a unexceptional background without a father figure. Given the remit and this being a BBC Films production, I was a bit worried this would have a Sunday evening ITV mystery drama level of production values about it but, kudos, it looks and feels more vibrant than that. And those nightmarish dream sequences where elder Sherlock’s cogs start working and he starts to recall bits of the case he’s writing up? A nice touch. Whilst it is a step in a right direction (and one I can see why Disney have given him the live-action Beauty & The Beast gig), I can’t help but think Condon’s direction isn’t at that standard to fully deliver on the concept of Mr. Holmes with an attempt to try and do too much when more focus on one or two aspects would have gone a long way.
Speaking of which, that takes some getting used to actually. Whilst I’m a fan of taking fictional characters and placing them into new scenarios, away from their traditional trappings, an elderly frail Sherlock Holmes is not something I can imagine many people were running through a brick wall for, as a concept for a new Holmes movie. Sure, he has some of that old magic about him as he still does his usual deducing & can figure out a person’s meaning to their visit or where they’ve been just from a quick look as they come through the door. But it’s more comparable to a dripping tap of magic instead of the 24/7 energy that Basil Rathbone, Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. have brought to the character over the years. I realise that they’re showing Sherlock to be just as human as the rest of us who gets all muddled but I ask is that really what people want to see? I prefer my fictional characters to be so fictional that they are a step above real life whilst retaining relatable elements. Here, it’s too much relation to reality with not enough of what makes Holmes special. Again, Sir Ian does a fine job but there’s no room for him to excel and deliver a similar type of performance as the range of the character he’s given is just too spread out. I mean there are four very different versions of the same person here alone. In a 100 minute movie, I didn’t feel like I had enough time with any to really nail it. For the decent character work we get with Holmes facing up to his failures or McKellen getting an elderly frail man spot on, there’s not enough impact of it to make a lasting impression. I will concede that the pseudo-realistic reality this Holmes inhabits where his cases were real but prone to hype, the cult of celebrity and reputation overtaking the man (“My mother is disappointed you didn’t bring your Deer Stalker” “I’ve never worn one!”) is actually an enticing albeit impenetrable one.
I feel like I’m repeating myself but overall Mr. Holmes is such a simple concept that could have been brilliant had it come off. The lure of Sir Ian taking on Sherlock in even such an out there capacity makes this just about worth seeing although you do feel like this could have been even better. Whilst no real aspect is bad, nothing excels either, so we just have this above average medium all the way through which is frankly uninteresting and given the subject matter doesn’t satisfy & we’re given a mess of such an easy concept, it’s a cruelty to label this as a disappointment, but it is.