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The story is set in 1947, following a long-retired Holmes living in a Sussex village with his housekeeper and her young son. But then he finds himself haunted by a thirty-year old case. Holmes memory isn't what it used to be, so he only remembers fragments of the case: a confrontation with an angry husband, and a secret bond with his beautiful, but unstable wife.
Sir Ian McKellen observed that it was easy for him to imagine Sherlock Holmes as a real person, since the majority of this movie is set during his own lifetime, and he could have met Sherlock as a boy in 1947, just like Roger. See more »
One of the scenes where Holmes is writing up his memories of the old case as they come to him, he passes his pen from right hand to left, puts it down with the left, then when he picks up his drink with the right, a different camera angle shows the pen is in that hand between his fingers. Cuts show the two situations one more time each. See more »
As a standalone film, one of the great charms of Mr. Holmes is that it can be viewed with equal level of enjoyment by two different types of people: the type who know nothing other than the basics regarding the character of Sherlock Holmes, and equally the people who have seen or read everything about him. It manages to appeal to both camps by being both a revisionist version of his stories, yet still keeping in the same spirit and not denying any of the prior literature.
Due to the fact that the film's metronome is a 93-year-old man losing his memory, the pace is unfortunately slow for the first half of the film. Having multiple flashbacks that omit information until necessary keeps the viewer guessing but also at times frustrated. In the meantime, the real entertainer is Sir Ian McKellen, who is not nearly as old as his character is in real life and yet captures the nuances of someone that age to precision, all while forming his own character of the titular Holmes. It's one I hope can make its way into the Oscar conversation yet is so much simpler I won't count on it.
The second half of the film picks up in pace as the 3 story lines all begin to start solving themselves, but more importantly Mr. Holmes (I don't think his first name is ever uttered in this movie) starts to realize a moral that he never quite came to terms with in all of his sleuthing regarding the truth and humanity. I've seen a solid handful of the countless Sherlock Holmes incarnations (he is the most commonly portrayed character in cinema) and there is something that becomes almost tragic about each one as you realize he is someone whose intelligence and wit makes him unable to live normally amongst other 'ordinary' people. As some subtext, it is perhaps a nice touch that Mr. McKellen is a proud member of the LGBT community, as there is reason to believe (although rarely outwardly said) that Sherlock Holmes may be gay himself. These are details you don't need to watch the story but can help enhance the nuance.
In terms of filmmaking, director Bill Condon and co. don't particularly do anything to motivate the situation other that just let the characters take care of business. Again, this is not a movie notable for having a quick pace, but it is never dull altogether either. The next movie I'll be watching is Gods and Monsters, the previous Condon/McKellen collaboration.
As you can see from how much I've written, I'm fond of the movie, enjoyed the numerous elements, and was left with a lot to think about. It's a small scale film and should be viewed as such, but is nonetheless enjoyable and is a nice spin on the iconic character.
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