Mr. Holmes Review: Simply Elementary

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Mr. Holmes, as well as the novel on which it is based, A Slight Trick of the Mind, do a brave thing. Sherlock Holmes has been around for well over a century. He’s a legend, a fiction character that nary a soul out there wouldn’t recognize. Mr. Holmes explores what the end of that legend looks like, but with a firm foot in the ordinary instead of the grandest mystery of them all.

We catch up with Holmes (Ian McKellan) at 93. His memory is escaping, so he tends to his bees and ignores his mail. Watson is long gone, leaving behind his fictional retellings of the mysteries he and his partner used to uncover. Sherlock’s only human interactions are with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker). As the great detective remembers less and less, he and Roger attempt to figure out the truth behind Watson’s fiction of Sherlock’s final case. Holmes knows he wouldn’t have retired had it been solved, so it’s really about the mystery of his own failure.

The classic Sherlock Holmes stories work because the thrill of reading or watching as he puts together the clues always works in our favor. Mr. Holmes will test fans by initially breaking the formula. The first half hour or so lacks narrative drive, relying almost entirely on McKellan’s exceptional (as always) performance.

Until the climax, the film is best when we flash back to a younger Sherlock at his wisest and cheekiest as he does what he does best. But the slow introspection on the detective’s lonely life comes together beautifully for the final act, making the entire experience worth it, whether you’re a longtime fan or just a fan of great character studies.

Either way, Mr. Holmes is sure to satisfy you, whether it be through the warm connection between the old Sherlock and the young Roger, McKellan’s appropriately funny and quiet performance, or the mysteries that delightfully unfold with both surprise and familiarity. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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