Movie review: Mr Holmes

Movie review: Mr Holmes
PHOTO: Shaw Organisation

Mr Holmes (PG)
Crime, Mystery/104 minutes
Rating: 3/5

The typical image of Sherlock Holmes is one of him with his deerstalker (that's his chequered beret) and smoking a pipe, along with his amazing deductive crime-solving skills. But what if all that wasn't true?

Mr Holmes, directed by Bill Condon, challenges the notion of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original creation. The film is based on Mitch Cullin's novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind.

While watching this film, some may subconsciously compare the modern version of Sherlock Holmes, portrayed by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC's Sherlock series, to this Sherlock played by 76-year-old veteran actor Ian McKellen.

Unlike the young, high-functioning sociopath, obnoxiously confident and witty character Cumberbatch plays, McKellen's Sherlock is the total opposite.

Fans of the fictitious Baker Street detective character may be shocked to see Sherlock as an aged man who borders on senility with his insecurities exposed. At one point, he even believes that "prickly ash" obtained from Japan can aid his memory.

35 years have passed since Sherlock retreated from public life to a farm and his beloved bees. His old housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, his brother Mycroft, and his closest work partner, Dr John Watson, have all died.

Sherlock's last case involved a woman named Anne. This case led to a tragic end that he doesn't seem to be able to get over, along with other past cases that still haunt him.

The beauty of this film is probably Sherlock's inability to realise that in fact, the last case he is studying is himself as he tries to establish his identity once again. Trying hard to recall his past, objects related to cases he once studied appear before him as clues.

In the irony of Sherlock studying himself as a case, the audience witnesses the disintegration of his character, even though the old celebrity still has people recognising him at train stations.

What's particularly worth noting in Mr Holmes is Sherlock's relationship with his housekeeper's son, Roger, played by young actor Milo Parker. Through him, Sherlock is seen at his most vulnerable and guilty state.

No other relationship is focused on in the film, not even Dr Watson.

However, Sherlock does reveal in one scene that Watson exaggerated the details of his cases when he wrote stories. "I would alter the stories Watson wrote," he remarked.

If there was one critical element the film lacked, it would be the flow of the plot. Cases didn't seem linked and there was no clear storyline, making it confusing. The film was also slow-moving and even boring in some parts. The abrupt ending may also be frustrating for some fans.

Perhaps this movie seemed to be out of scope of the usual films 59-year-old Condon produces. He is best known for directing Chicago, Dreamgirls and the two final installments of the Twilight series. Mr Holmes could have been better directed with a clearer plot for a mystery film.

Nonetheless, when it comes to acting, McKellen earned his chops again with a commendable job. Known for playing thought-provoking characters such as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and Magneto in X-Men, McKellen's portrayal of Sherlock showcased the emotional vulnerabilities of the character, making him a believable old Holmes. Maybe even one that grew older from the Cumberbatch version of a younger Holmes.

stephluo@sph.com.sg

Mr Holmes opens in cinemas here on Aug 6.

Check out other movies that are opening in cinemas on Aug 6 here.

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