Ever since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought us this internationally adored sleuth, there has been a standard of mystery thrills and excitement that have become expected of all adventures emanating from Baker Street. The novels, the series with Benedict Cumberbatch, and in some ways, the two films starring Robert Downey Jr. have been exhilarating thrill rides that use the ever-intelligent perception and quirky personality of the titular character as its primary building block. With Mr. Holmes, however, we have been given a tale that has swapped all of the excitement and kinetic energy of previous films about the exceptional detective, and instead has replaced it with something that has never been done before: an intense study into what the actual personality of Sherlock Holmes is like.
There is a mystery side story in this film, but it is just a pawn on the overall chess board that is the portrayal of the deteriorating mind of a once brilliant man coming to terms with the consequences of his previous endeavors. In this film we see Sherlock Holmes confront his inner demons and begin to realize that his past and present decisions had profound effects on those around him, all amidst the immense struggle of combatting his degrading memory. The Sherlock Holmes we are accustomed to seeing is efficient, intuitive, powerful, self-confident, and relentless in his pursuit of the truth through fact-based evidence. Sir Ian McKellen, on the other hand, gives us a masterfully unique performance in a way that only he could portray. His version of the character is fragile in both body and mind, reflective, humble in ways, and ignorant in others. He begins to realize that there are things in the world that can’t be perfectly explained by fact, and that it is impossible to grasp the concept of the human spirit and pure human emotion by simply examining the evidence on the surface. Thankfully, by the end of the film, we see a rejuvenated Mr. Holmes who, while still fragile in body and mind, is the most human and relatable form of the sleuth we have ever encountered. This is a feat that could only be achieved by McKellen’s subtle grace and pure dominance of the screen.
You shouldn’t go into this film expecting it to be similar to all of the other stories we have been gifted that revolve around the magnificent Sherlock Holmes. Albeit that this movie may be a tad slow, but I would gladly trade the Baker Street thrillers for more introspective reflection through this amazing character. We get a fresh, new twist on a classic and worn out figure that breathes new life into the character and opens up an entirely new world of questions that we can ask ourselves regarding this famed man. I like Sherlock Holmes when he is an infallible force of truth seeking intelligence, but I love this version of Holmes where we see him more as a person we can relate to, that has to not only deal with mortal issues like we do every day, but also has the challenge of understanding the invisible human element of life and consequences. He may have solved many great mysteries, but I think coming to terms with the idea that he may not be able to look at everything through a fact-based, logical lens is the most challenging mystery Sherlock Holmes has ever solved.
Mr. Holmes (2015): 3.5/4 stars