Film review of Mr Holmes
|We have known him over the years as Sherlock Holmes in his films, Sherlock in the latest TV series, as Holmes full stop or by the famous titles of his notorious books or familiar villains such as Moriarty, and he is back now a few years older as Mr Holmes.
The title of the lately released adaptation of our beloved hero hints straight off at this genius character as viewed perhaps from the perspective of a stranger or through the eyes of a younger protagonist. The Mr., being a formal appellation of respect, puts a little distance between Holmes and us as spectators as well as between him and other characters in the film.
This indeed becomes clear when we perceive that the young boy playing the role of the housekeeper's son is in fact his most avid admiring spectator as well as becoming the catalyst for Holmes's memory throughout the film; as they get closer, the boy becomes his right hand and perhaps even another young Sherlock himself in future?
We have seen Sherlock in all his age phases and this latest phase almost seals his fate as he 'misplaces' his memory but tries to regain his humanity in an attempt to redeem himself before he leaves this world.
The 'Holmes formula' remains nevertheless the same; (despite the difference between the take on Sherlock in this film and the previous takes on him in previous films) Holmes here may have an ageing mind and regretful heart but the successful formula of subtle intelligent clues and brilliant deductions is resilient, with Sherlock's genius remaining intact despite his gaps in memory and struggles with old age.
The setting is both in Japan and England, with an attractive contrast of both scenery and characters. The scenes are also alluringly contrasting: a combination of beautiful long shots and emotional close ups of Holmes's extraordinary expressions.
These emotional close ups highlight his unique personality and his long lasting character traits despite his age: he remains logical, stubborn, witty and nonchalant as well as confident and astute, albeit softened in his crude honesty by the ravages of time and regret. His essence is the same but he realises that human nature requires more heart than mind sometimes and that certain truths are better embellished for the sake of goodness and empathy.
Therefore the main difference in the ageing Holmes is that he tries to put his heart above his head finally and this is the truly surprising element of the film.
This brings the theme of realism to the forefront -rather than fiction- and it is spelled out to us clearly in the form of the contrast between what Watson wrote in terms of fiction and what Sherlock remembers and sees as his reality.
The props are still there: the hat, the smoking, the needle the fine tuned violin sound track (especially during the credits) but they are also different, less pronounced, making him more real and less of a caricature; a more viable and believable persona to the audience.
I am not sure if this is a good idea (ie toning down the props) in the long run since Sherlock is such an extraordinary mind that we may wish to coat him in images of gigantic props and unrealistic visual effects if only to set him apart from the rest. But this is of course a matter of opinion.
The story line and plot are simple enough but the flashbacks make them complex and more intriguing and there is certainly a mystery to be unravelled. This is achieved quite cleverly and smoothly with the right amount of twists and props such as bees and wasps and gloves, perfume and magical musical instruments, as well as an 'over played' or 'over acted' foreign music teacher.
The cast is aptly chosen and Ian McKellen stands out with superb facial expressions aided by witty, wise dialogue (although I must say I struggled with the technical sound of dialogue and understanding the words clearly at times).
The interaction between him and his young 'protege' of sorts is endearing and we see a possible future Sherlock in the making. The dialogue between mother/housekeeper her son and Sherlock is engrossing and subtle, hinting at the relationships between them without being in your face spelled out, and this is always a good thing in my opinion; subtle dialogue draws the characters' traits for us without our conscious knowledge and the characters' emotions form in our minds a skeletal plan of their interactions.
The script is high end and one example of its well finished calibre is when the doctor responds to Holmes's Japanese herbal memory remedy by saying: 'its the side effects I am worried about', what are they responds Holmes, 'Hope' replies the doctor.
Referring to hope as a negative side effect in the face of age and mortality is very much a Sherlock fitting stroke of dialogue genius because of its inherent logic and at the same time because it surprises us by transforming an abstract emotional concept (here: hope) into a physical side effect.
The story unwinds very cleverly with the bees and wasps figuring in and out of the plot to aid the story line from beginning to end.
' That's not a bee it's a wasp, says Holmes..They are entirely two different things'. Said by Sherlock at the beginning to a young boy about to disturb a wasp on a train window, this statement sets both the plot line for later on in the story as well as reminds us of Sherlock's own abilities and his logical mind despite of its failings with age.
Many emotional scenes throughout the film, with the final one bringing forth a sense of soulful happiness and of a humble contented Sherlock; an image of him which we don't usually attribute to Watson's long time seemingly cold and arrogant friend.
It's not so elementary for Holmes this time, he learns from Watson's empathy and has a complex inner emotional battle to fight to get to a desired and peaceful end result.