There are two things that most of us can surely agree upon. Sir Ian McKellen is one of the greatest thespians of our times, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s cunning British detective, Sherlock Holmes, is one of the greatest literary creations ever conceived. It’s staggering to think that no-one had previously thought to band performer and character together. On paper, the McKellen/Holmes union would appear to be the perfect marriage, but unfortunately Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes is a rather tedious affair, that forgoes the thrills of investigation, for the despondency and melancholia of growing old.
The film focuses primarily on the twilight years of a long retired Holmes, as his wits are no longer their sharpest and his great mind starts to fail him. Holmes is haunted by his very last case, involving a mourning housewife, and its repercussions that forced him into a life of exile. Now at the tender age of 93, he’s plagued by his past and imprisoned by his bodies’ fading present.
There is a great sadness in the eyes of Holmes, and there’s also a poignancy at the heart of the film, but the narrative is so overwrought with boring melodrama that too often we are yearning for the Sherlock of old, not the old Sherlock.
As you may have guessed, McKellen is expectantly excellent at portraying a once great man who is battling the onset of senility and irrelevance. He elevates Jeffrey Hatcher’s unfocused script throughout the film’s runtime, but only he can do so much with the material that is, at times, far too focused on bee hives. The past and present are explored, unsuccessfully for the most part, through nonlinear storytelling. The script skips oddly between three separate narratives, each of which are thinly veiled as Sherlockian mysteries of old.
Condon captures the British countryside capably, but his film lacks tension and a cinematic edge. His pacing and dull storytelling would appeal to a Sunday matinee audience, but there isn’t much here for the young adult demographic. It almost feels like these filmmakers have gone out of their way to reroute Sherlock into becoming the polar opposite to Guy Ritchie’s handling of the character in more recent times. While I don’t need Ritchie’s ADHD-treatment of the material, I would request, at the very least, some thrills be interlaced into any Holmes mystery.
If you must, then I would only recommend Mr. Holmes as another chance to witness the skills and talents of an old pro in McKellen. As always, he is a joy to behold; I just wished the union wasn’t 20 years too late.