Mr. Holmes movie full length review - Glacial pacing sinks otherwise intriguing Holmes as curmudgeon who learns life's lessons
Mr. Holmes is based on a 2005 novel entitled "Slight Trick of the Mind," by Mitch Cullin, who posits a Sherlock Holmes who is a real-life character.
As Cullin has it, Watson (not Conan Doyle) wrote the fictional adventures which the world has come to believe are the true life escapades of Holmes. But Holmes is now 93, retired and living in a country house in Sussex, England, fighting memory loss and trying to remember the details of his last case which forced him into retirement, twenty years earlier.
Holmes' present day story focuses on his relationship with a young boy, Roger, and his mother, Mrs. Munro, who's in charge of looking after him. Holmes bonds with Roger, teaching him the ins and outs of beekeeping, a hobby that has turned into an obsession.
There are also two flashbacks that constitute the other two thirds of the narrative. The first flashback concerns Holmes' last case, immortalized by Watson as "The Adventure of the Dove Grey Glove." Holmes is dissatisfied with Watson's dramatization of the events and seeks to write the true version, if only he could remember the details.
The second flashback involves a trip Holmes takes to Japan right after World War II, in an effort to find a prickly ash plant, the jelly of which may or may not stave off his encroaching senility. A Japanese admirer, Tamiki Umezaki, at first appears to be helping Holmes and brings him to Hiroshima, recently destroyed in the atomic explosion, where Holmes miraculously finds the plant which he believes will help him.
Holmes deduces that Umezaki is no expert regarding the prickly ash despite earlier claims to the contrary. Holmes angrily rebuffs Umezaki by denying his assertion that his father had met Holmes after leaving his family in the lurch and moving to England years before.
While Holmes retains some of his deductive powers, this is much more a story about second chances and redemption. At the end of his life, Holmes realizes that he's been a curmudgeon all along. This becomes quite apparent when his memory finally comes back to him and he realizes that he completely bungled the last case of his career?the so-called case of the Dove Grey Glove.
In the unfortunate case, Holmes is hired by a husband to investigate the strange behavior of his wife. The woman, despondent over the deaths of two miscarried children, is bent on committing suicide. Holmes, selfishly siding with the husband, misreads the wife's true intent, by admitting that he's suffered from loneliness like her. But when the woman asks if they can share the burden of their loneliness together, Holmes urges her to return to her husband. Soon afterward, the woman steps in front of a speeding train.
When Roger is attacked by what appears to be the bees from Holmes' apiary and is near death, Holmes finally is able to emote. He prevents Mrs. Munro from destroying the apiary, deducing that it was a swarm of wasps that attacked Roger. Together, Holmes and Mrs. Munro set the wasps' nest on fire, preventing Mrs. Munro from being consumed by anger and revenge. Fortunately, Roger recovers, and Holmes bequeaths his estate to the caretaker and the young boy.
Now armed with an epiphany about life, the curmudgeon sees the errors of his ways and decides that white lies sometime do more good than harm. Realizing that Watson was trying to protect him by creating a false narrative about the Dove Grey Glove woman, he is now bent on protecting Umezaki, by informing him that his father ended up doing honorable work for the British Empire in a secret capacity.
Holmes no longer has to beat himself up over regrets. He incorporates the tradition of the "ring of stones" which he saw in Hiroshima, into his own life, now memorializing all those he loved but are now lost.
Both Ian McKellen as Holmes and Milo Parker as Roger, steal the show, as they both learn from one another about life. Laura Linney, as the housekeeper, on the other hand, appears to be miscast?perhaps an actor a bit more dour and distinctive, would have done the trick (Linney simply brings little personality to the role).
The idea of turning the heroic Sherlock Holmes into a sad curmudgeon who must learn a series of life lessons before finally finding some meaning in life, is not necessarily a bad idea. But where Mr. Holmes falls down, is in its glacial pacing. The running time of the film is approximately one hour and 45 minutes. It feels more like two and a half hours. Director Bill Condon could have cut a good 20 minutes from the narrative and the film would have been in much better shape. As it stands now, despite its good intentions, Mr. Holmes is a very long slog to get through.