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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Mr. Holmes | Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Patrick Kennedy, Hattie Morahan, Hiroyuki Sanada | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
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Mr. Holmes | Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Patrick Kennedy, Hattie Morahan, Hiroyuki Sanada | Review

We never think of him as frail or having faulty faculties. Who, after all, has a sharper mind than Sherlock Holmes? (Ian McKellen)

The famous sleuth has long since retired to the countryside; he keeps bees, employs Mrs. Munro as his housekeeper (Laura Linney) tolerates her young son Roger (Milo Parker) and puts a dour, curmudgeonly face to the world.  Who is this humorless grump?

The year is 1947.  Now in his nineties, Holmes is haunted by his last case, one that made him go into retirement some thirty years hence.  Written notes help with clues:  a man (Patrick Kennedy) came to him about his grieving wife (Hattie Morahan) who lost two children, now visiting a medium under the guise of glass armonica lessons.  The mystery is that Holmes can’t remember how it all ended.

Holmes has also just returned from a trip to Japan in search of prickly ash, known to have properties to aid progressive memory loss.  He finds the plant in war-ravaged Hiroshima encountering yet another mystery along the way in the person of his host, Mr. Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the story of his absent father.

Now back home, the elderly man, whose memories arrive and depart like random visitors, befriends the precocious Roger and the two form an unlikely friendship that troubles Mrs. Munro, who wishes to leave Holmes’s employ for a more stable position elsewhere.  

Flashbacks from Holmes’s recent trip to Japan and from his last case more than thirty years ago surface at intervals, weaving a quilt of mysterious clues that oftentimes evade the great detective, used to a lifetime of observation, precision, and deduction.

Holmes’s decline is poignant but never descends into syrupy melodrama due to its superb cast.  More than a national treasure, Ian McKellen is a global one, in a nuanced performance of platinum caliber.  Laura Linney provides the quiet conflict, and Milo Parker’s Roger is exemplary as the precocious lad who wants to absorb Holmes’ knowledge while the old sleuth still has the power to bestow it.

In this universe, Dr, Watson (shown only from the neck down in one flashback) is the author of the Sherlock Holmes series, embellishing it to include murder and intrigue, much to Holmes’s chagrin. The famous detective sets the record straight about the deerstalker hat and meerschaum pipe myths and stifles a laugh at movies made from his cases, heavily dramatized and greatly exaggerated.  Seems Mr. Watson was the one doing all of the presuming, not Holmes.

A final, surprising circumstance illustrates that the lifelong sharpness of a mind used to detecting tiny details and extrapolating them successfully can snap into crystal clarity through the fogginess of advanced years when crisis strikes.

Director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) working from a splendid adapted script by Jeffrey Hatcher (The Duchess) based on the Mitch Cullin novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, skillfully maneuvers through the various pertinent flashbacks and multiple storylines to slowly reveal quiet surprises and excavated memories.

A graceful, contemplative film, Mr. Holmes is unhurried and deliberate like its protagonist, and revelatory like a case painstakingly but ultimately solved.  
It is one of the best, most intelligent and insightful films to come along in ages.  

Go see it.  Get a clue.

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