We saw “Mr. Holmes” last night, a throwback to film-making as it should be, sans special effects other than great cinematography. It is an example of how a film format can uniquely tell a story, which on stage or in print would simply not be as effective (although it is based on a novel, by Mitch Cullin, A Slight Trick of the Mind which I understand the movie closely follows thanks to the playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay). It is the marriage of fine directing, a great script, and superb acting. It uniquely tells a revisionist story of Sherlock Holmes.
It is 1947 and Holmes, played by Ian McKellen, is now 93. He wants to set the record straight. He feels that Dr. Watson -- who is long gone from the scene -- has distorted his legacy, in particular a case he handled in 1919. So there are flashbacks to those times. Holmes is in a race against time as senility is setting in and he is desperate to piece together what really happened and rewrite the truth.
He travels to post WW II occupied Japan to secure a kind of “royal jelly” that is supposed to have properties to improve memory. He then returns to his home on the Sussex coast to work on rewriting the case and there he bonds with a young boy, Roger (Milo Parker), the son of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney). Without going into the full plot, suffice it to say it is his relationship with Roger which haltingly, but ultimately unlocks his memory of the case.
But while Holmes has lost fragments of his life to memory loss and aging, his powers of observation remain keen: so much so that his brutally honest truths, he learns, have the power to hurt, and so the movie is a study of redemption as well. He acquires a measure of humility.
The movie moves with the pace of the slow section of a symphony, not a criticism but an attribute given the subject matter. Themes are developed and come back to you changed. And speaking of music, the original soundtrack by Carter Burwell, always but unobtrusively in the background, is still another element that brings a distinctive dimension to the film.
Bill Condon, the director has made the perfect film. It is not going to appeal to a wide audience so see it if you can while it is in some theaters. When it comes out in DVD, Ann and I hope to see it again, this time with subtitles to capture every bit of the dialogue.