[Screen It]


(2015) (Ian McKellen, Laura Linney) (PG)

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Drama: A legendary detective, plagued by failing health and memory lapses, tries to write down his version of what happened with a case that he believes was the only one he never solved and ultimately caused him to retire from that profession.
It's 1947 and over thirty years since legendary London detective Sherlock Holmes (IAN McKELLEN) worked on his last case. He now lives in a remote area where he cares for his bees, all while his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (LAURA LINNEY), and her young son, Roger (MILO PARKER), tend to his needs. Having recently traveled to Japan to meet Tamiki Umezaki (HIROYUKI SANADA) in search of a plant known as the prickly ash, Sherlock is concerned about his lapses in memory, something his physician, Dr. Barrie (ROGER ALLAM), also notes. This is worrisome for the former detective, especially since he's trying to write down his version of his last case.

It's the only one he believes he never solved, and it involved a husband, Thomas Kelmot (PATRICK KENNEDY), who was concerned about his wife, Ann (HATTIE MORAHAN), following two miscarriages. Hoping to sooth her, he enlisted the aid of Madame Schirmer (FRANCES DE LA TOUR) to teach her to play the water harmonica. But the more involved she got in that, the more he believed the music teacher might not be up to any good. All of which resulted in Sherlock tailing Ann, hoping to deduct the truth about what was transpiring.

As Sherlock tries to recall the elements of that and how everything ultimately played out, he finds Roger as his new apprentice, both in the sleuthing and beekeeping world. With Roger's mother concerned about her boy becoming too attached to the physically and mentally failing older man, it remains up in the air about whether the detective will be come to a resolution about the decades old case.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
Okay, I'll fess up I've never read one Sherlock Holmes related novel or short story. I was more of a Hardy Boys fan growing up, and the long-running tale of the now legendary British detective simply didn't pose intriguing enough to lure me into cracking open one of those works.

I'll also admit that I've never seen many of the film adaptations (although I did catch the two amped-up action offerings featuring Robert Downey Jr. as the title character) nor the recent TV ones (mostly notably Benedict Cumberbatch's turn in the current BBC series). Simply put, the character just hasn't been compelling enough to make me want to see out more of him and his detective ways.

Thus, heading into the theater to catch the latest iteration of the character to hit the big screen, I wasn't expecting much of "Mr. Holmes." Yes, it features the terrific Ian McKellen ("The Lord of the Rings" and "X-Men" films), the always reliable (and three-time Oscar nominee) Laura Linney, and is helmed by Bill Condon ("Gods and Monsters," "Chicago"). But considering my track record of not really showing any interest, I didn't have much vested in this and figured it might just be okay.

It's terrific. While I obviously don't have a complete mastery of the character and various storylines in which he's appeared over the many years, I had enough of a working knowledge to appreciate what screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher has concocted (in adapting the 2005 novel "A Slight Trick of the Mind"). And that's the story of Holmes as an older man, long since retired from his profession, who's trying to recall and sort out his last case that he believes he never solved.

The only problem is that his memory is failing and thus he's become his own unreliable narrator as he tries to tell his version of the tale, both on paper and as told verbally to the young but precocious son (Milo Parker) of his widowed housekeeper (Linney).

Hatcher repeatedly jumps the story through time, be that when Holmes was hired by a husband (Patrick Kennedy) who's concerned about the behavior of his depressed wife (Hattie Morahan), or the detective's trip to Japan where a local man (Hiroyuki Sanada) tries to help find a plant that might fix or at least stabilize that deteriorating recollection of past events.

I'm not always a steadfast fan of non-linear storytelling, but it works here as we get to witness Holmes both in fine form three decades in the past and as a man concerned about his decline but still with some spunk and detective prowess in the tank. What makes all of it work so well, however, is the performance by McKellen who is nothing short of exemplary in the part.

Granted, I didn't come in with any preconceived notion of how the character should look, sound or act. But I doubt even the most ardent fan would have any issue with the actor's portrayal, as it's reverential, dignified, entertaining to behold, and sometimes even heartbreaking. Terrific on his own, he also clearly benefits from the great chemistry he has with his costars, most notably young Parker who's quite the revelation here and easily holds his own against the far more seasoned and veteran performer.

While the case that needs solving -- both in the past and then again in the present -- might not be as complex as diehard fans might be expecting or hoping for, I heartily enjoyed the offering from start to finish. Featuring Oscar caliber work all around (especially from McKellen), it's one of my favorite films of 2015 and earns a strong recommendation. "Mr. Holmes" rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed July 21, 2015 / Posted July 24, 2015

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