Sunday, 14 June 2015

'Mr. Holmes' Review

Mr Holmes comes out this Friday, hit the jump to hear my thoughts on the film...

Mr. Holmes has achieved quite the reputation already: a mere week until release and it  has 100% on review aggregator 'Rotten Tomatoes'. Despite this,  I had not really read about it in detail, nor had I read any reviews, or watched the trailer. So I went into the screening completely open to what I was about to witness.

Ian McKellen plays the titular character, albeit in a different light. Holmes is 93 and is past the onset of dementia. He lives on his own in a quiet country cottage with housekeepers Mrs.Munro and Roger (both of whom he insults profusely). Indeed, this is a bitter Holmes: aside from a few gags, he is disillusioned by the way the public perceives him (in the story, Watson wrote false accounts of his life), and he has lost his mind. His dementia has prevented him from remembering the particulars of his last case, although he can vaguely remember there was a negative outcome; so he starts off on a quest to figure out what happened.


Mr. Holmes is never quite sure what kind of film it wants to be. It's rated pg, and lacks any edge with which to balance the stuffy period feel of the whole affair. On top of this, Holmes forms a bond with young boy Rodger who helps him to solve the case. This feels like the central conceit of a thousand family movies. So perhaps this is what it is. But one runs into a problem with this thinking: the film, thematically, is depressing. All the central ideas are reminiscent of a very adult film: sadness, depression, death, suicide, dementia, mortality, and loneliness. The whole feature is about a sad, lonely man at the brink of death and losing his mind. It contains upsetting scenes where Holmes practically forgets his own name: hardly family stuff.

However, Mckellen puts in a fantastic performance as the titular character. It's not easy to play a dementia sufferer, and act so damn frail so convincingly. One thing's for certain, his performance is much better than Eddie Redmayne's in 'The Theory of Everything'. On top of this, the rest of the cast put in solid efforts into making this a film of solid acting prowess (although not exactly a masterclass either). So I  think it works incredibly well as a character study on top of anything else.


The atmosphere of the whole piece is also hard to gauge. It appears retrospective and sad: Holmes is at the end of his life and the realization of his loneliness traps him in a sort of melancholy. His dementia diary is filled with missing spots, and a long trip away leads only to sadness and failure. Although, some would proclaim it to be a gentle comedy - there are many moments in which the audience were laughing, but only one where actual hilarity ensued. Some would describe it as an adventure as, at heart, that's what model this film takes. And others would state it as a period piece in the vein of 'Downtown Abbey'. I would agree with the latter, but also concede that it is profoundly melancholy in a way that most pieces are not. The soundtrack is, as one might imagine, an atmospheric, swooning orchestral piece, swirling around the countryside with us. However, I would have to state that I thought the use of music when Holmes travels to Japan a tad racist and stereotypical. The cinematography is good, but not amazing, although certain scenes stand out. In fact, SPOILERS, a suicide scene is done so perfectly that I had to mention it here. I'm not going to include any more information on this as, well, it would spoil the story.

Taking up the heft of the narrative, we have two flashbacks. The first of these, in Japan, appears really quite redundant to me. Indeed, it emphasizes Holmes's dementia, and creates a setup for the ending which I rather enjoyed. This particular flashback looks beautiful, and certainly adds to the atmosphere, yet, in cinema you would expect such a section to contain important information. It doesn't. As for the other? It's the case that Holmes is trying to remember. It's intriguing and feels promising during the build up, but the ending and realization is rather a let down and does not feel as a revelation should in any way. Although, once again, this adds to your appreciation of the ending. So, I suppose these two flashbacks are rather disappointing, although not completely useless. The central mystery of the story (although peripheral concerns often eclipse it) is, therefore, quite bland. And on another note, there are two Holmes denouements. The first is the solving of the case, and the second involves bees... it's meant to feel spectacular and as a revelation, but, I'm sad to say, I just couldn't care less.

Why? Because this is such a British film. The denouement  is so pathetic and peripheral that only people from our small island could begin to give a shit about it. The rush? To save a few bees. I don't care, do you? And that's just the thing: this film is for British people. If you enjoy Downtown Abbey or slow, atmospheric period pieces, this is the film for you. This was not the film for me, and that's where some of the negative value comes from. I reckon when this film is released in the States, the RT rating is going to fall rapidly. But what it does, it does well. So, re-compensating for what it intends to be, it approaches four stars. Yet I feel as if the negatives just knock it back to 3.... if it's your kinda thing go see it. If not, then don't.

Mr. Holmes gets 3 stars!




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