Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mr Holmes, a Boy, Bees, Japan, and the Woman in Gray

Mr. Holmes is something special in a glut of action/comic book movies and mediocre comedies. I, like most, love to go and see the big budget blockbusters, but while others were excited to see Ant-Man, I was looking forward to seeing a small British film starring Ian McKellen.  Mr. Holmes is based on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.

There are three stories in the film joined together by a single theme: what is important in life is understanding that we must nourish the human spirit. Holmes' biggest regret is the story he seeks to remember.

Sherlock Holmes is ninety-two, and it is  two years past the end of World War II in the movie.  He has retired to live in the country and raise bees.  The great detective has lost some of his mental acuity and is now trying to remember his last case and why he left London.  John Watson, the friend and chronicler of Holmes, is long dead.  Sherlock must attempt to recall what happened on his own.  In his quest to regain his memory, he has traveled to Japan to find an herb that may help him. We are told the story of this quest in flashback.  He has forgotten why now keeps bees.  He becomes involved befriending his housekeeper's son, Roger.  It is Roger, played by Milo Parker, that seems to bring out the memories for Sherlock and not the prickly ash herb from Japan or the royal jelly from his bees.  Sherlock, who has been reduced to writing names of people on his shirt cuffs to remember, desperately wants to remember the story of the woman in gray.  Just as the story of his adventure in Japan, we learn the story of the final case of Sherlock Homes in flashback.

The movie is beautiful storytelling and beautifully shot.  The relationship between Holmes and Roger is a moving tale that in a sense gives us a view what perhaps Holmes was like as a boy.  It is the loss of the detective's singular gift of absolute, cold logic, that gives Holmes his first view into the human heart.  While the relationship with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and his Japanese pen pal (Hiroyuki Sanada) lack the dimensions of the woman in grey story (Hattie Morahan), they do add to the richness of the story.  It is the magic of the acting skill of Ian McKellen that makes the story work.

There is perhaps only a handful of actors living and dead that have the skills possessed by Sir Ian McKellen.  At no point do we ever think, "Oh look, McKellen plays Holmes really well." All we see is Sherlock Holmes, ninety-two, or Sherlock Holmes some thirty years before. McKellen relishes every movement, every facial expression, and every hand gesture.  He becomes who he plays.  The make-up used to make the seventy-two-year-old actor look ninety-two is given life by McKellen.  Whether it is the elderly Holmes who leans on the boy to keep his step stable or the younger Holmes who flips his walking stick jauntily in front as he follows the woman in gray, it is McKellen who gives us perhaps one of the most interesting interpretations of Sherlock Holmes to ever appear on screen.  While many an actor has played the role of Holmes, few have inhabited the character as well as Ian McKellen.  Just as he owns the rolls of Gandalf or Magneto, he owns the character of the great detective in this movie.

Mr. Holmes is a movie well worth your time.  You may have a bit of trouble finding it since its release to theaters is a bit limited, but I am glad I went.   Now if you'll excuse me, I must go and see Ant-Man.