Instead of a deerstalker cap; a top hat, instead of a pipe; a cigar, instead of action and mystery; a dramatic period piece, instead of legends; humans…
Finding a limited released film is pretty much the equivalence of that needle and a haystack proverb. Plus, living in small town OK only makes it that much harder. But in the end, stubbornness reigns supreme, and I was finally able to find one lonesome cinema in the state of Oklahoma who dared indulge my love for Holmes and British theatre. It is no surprise than that the only participants in the movie theatre were either elderly folk who enjoy subtle filmmaking, or strange and nerdy hipsters who try to avoid mainstream like the plague (I sat near one such individual who had an actual Holmes novel in the seat next to him so as to ensure no one would sit too close. Needless to say, I gave him some space…); I wonder which one that makes me? But you haven’t come to read about how my viewing experience went, have you? You came here to learn a thing or two about Sir Ian McKellen’s newest (and possibly last leading performance) feature film, which pays homage to the great Sherlock Holmes.
Do you remember the Five for Fighting song, “Superman”? The song has always been compelling because of its real life look at Superman. We see his desire for love and normality, even when it is beyond reach. In a certain respect, that is exactly what the film does; it give us the almost human biography of Sherlock Holmes. You get to see the human being, not the superhuman detective. For you will find very little mystery here, and the menace is left to two very brief upsetting moments (though they are far more emotional than they are gruesome, hence the PG rating). “What?!” you ask. “No villain or final showdown?” No, that’s not what this film is set out to do. “But, but, but…a film about his last case would be perfect for one last face to face confrontation between an arch nemesis.” Well, sorry. That’s not how this film was made. Once you have accepted that, we can move forward. Have you accepted that fact? Good. Now I can tell you why it is worth watching.
While some may find it on the less engaging side, it is slow in its pacing out of necessity. The film bolsters a fine cast of talented actors. Namely, the great Ian McKellen, who gives an appropriately perfect performance as an old legend leaving the lime light. It was as if this film role was written specifically for him, and he delivers it in the most dignifying way possible. My favorite moments with him are when he gives his absolute finest grumpy old man face or grunt; it is so convincing (even when he is equally charming and sympathetic throughout the rest of the picture)! If he isn’t in the running for an Oscar, I will be sincerely ticked. Also, the always great Laura Linney impresses once again. Even when the role demands a subtle presentation, she plays it with astounding elegance (that doesn’t mean she doesn’t get a chance to show off her emotional chops as well). Lastly, young Milo Parker gives one of the finest child performances I have seen in years. All around fantastic! The script is all together witty, engrossing, and very tragic. It serves well as both a memorial to the great detective and an engaging period piece.
Now, for the film itself. It puts an intimate and graphic spotlight on the human fears in the latter years of one’s life. Ultimately, it shows us the great Sherlock Holmes’ hidden fears of living a worthless, mistaken, and lonely life. We meet him as an old man who has lone forsook his occupational detective work, and has traded it in for bee keeping in the country. He only keeps the company of his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young, independent, and adventurous son (Milo Parker), who seems to be the only one on earth who appreciates and understands the true Mr. Holmes. You see, Holmes’ reputation has grown far more legendary than factual over time, thanks to Watson’s writings (who sadly, makes no full appearance in the film). And it leaves Holmes to wonder, did his many accomplishments outweigh the untold truths he has committed? What’s worse, he has no memory of his greatest of sins. While most men mourn the loss of the physical body over time, Holmes is being stripped of the only thing he holds dear; his brain. He is oh so fragile, and all he perceives to have left is one last tragic case 30 years ago in which he hopes to find answers and closure, but they may prove more damaging than beneficial. One incredibly revealing scene is when young Roger has done something vial which demands an apology. In the scene, Holmes pleads with him and fully admits, almost in tears, how his life has been full of so much regret, and it does not have to be the same for young Roger.
The notion of making a clear conscience is very admirable. In fact, we see many illustrations in the Bible of men and women attempting to right the wrongs of the past. Such examples are Caleb going to fight off the Anakim (Giants) who were the reason Israel was kept out of the Promised Land for 40 years. Another is Haggai who led the lazy nation of Israel into rebuilding the temple in order to bring back a place of worship for God. And then, the idea of the nation of Nineveh who turned from their evil ways and sought a relationship with the one true God. You see, clearing your conscience and fixing the past is an excellent thing. But ultimately, we do not have the capacity to clear all wrongs. That’s where the blood of Christ comes in as it sprinkles clean our hearts for a better conscience through baptism (Hebrews 10:22). That’s where we find true forgiveness and reconciliation. That is ultimately what Mr. Holmes needs, but alas, this is film after all. What we find is a man who is desperately seeking to find order and reason in his life, and it is an engrossing story of the human spirit at that.
As I said before, the film does suffer a bit from a slower pace than we might be used to, but if you are well prepared for that, you will be rewarded immensely! While an interesting plot line involving Holmes’ adventures into post-war Japan proves less important than you might expect, it does still work well as an interesting subplot (even if it does involve some Easter Religion tendencies). And while it might play out more like a stage production at times, that does not mean its simple taping technique is not fascinating. If you are looking for a host of action and suspense, you might want to look elsewhere. If you are, however, looking for an entertaining and intriguing cast of actors, an intense study of the human spirit, and an engaging final tale of the great Sherlock Holmes, than why wait? If you want to go all out, maybe even plan a night on the town and find a nice small restaurant or tea parlor to get yourselves in the spirit of the event. Whatever you end up doing, the decision should be elementary, you must see this film.