Movie Reviews: Mr. Holmes, The Most Human Sherlock to Grace the Big Screen

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Mr. Holmes may be the most human Sherlock to ever grace the screen.

There are few who are unfamiliar with the stories of-- or at least the concept of-- Sherlock Holmes. Even if you manage to go through life never reading a book or seeing a movie, you haven't escaped references to the world's greatest detective. 

He's been particularly inescapable in the last few years. From the Guy Ritchie films to the BBC Show and to CBS's Elementary, Holmes is another superhero in the cloud of superheroes that dominate our media era.

Mr. Holmes may be the most human Sherlock to ever grace the screen.

In his old age, Sherlock has become increasingly forgetful. Senile, even, to the point of having forgotten why he quit the game of deduction in the first place. He knows he quit, retired to his home in the country to tend to his bees, and he knows he is guilty about something, but no longer remembers the crime he is meant to be doing penitence for. And so the story is one of a man fighting his own mind, and growing closer to his housekeeper Mrs. Munroe (Laura Linney) and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker).

Milo is a treat to watch, in a way that not many child actors are. He displays a lot of subtlety and reserve, and when he does emote he does so in a perfectly concise and natural way, so that Roger feels every bit like the child he is, while still dealing with the complexities that the script requires. But Milo was in good company for his performance.

There is a careful balance which must be struck in writing and playing the character of Sherlock in particular. He isn't super powered, but he should be able to do things most people cannot.  He is very smart, to the point where he should be smarter than the audience. A problem with other Sherlock stories is the writers' tendency to talk down to the audience. The character should be blunt, to the point of near cruelty at times, and Sir Ian achieves that perfectly, while never feeling as though his intelligence as Sherlock is meant to be insulting yours as the viewer. 

Above all else, this is a story about compassion, both in the past and present. It is jarring to see the difference of him in the current day of the main story and the flashbacks of his memories-- a thirty year difference in the world of the film, and a testament to Sir Ian's strength as an actor. It is both disarming and sad to watch him playing the older Mr. Holmes, sensing the helplessness and frustration he feels at his loss of memory, and his subsequent loss of self. 

And between the three leads, you see people in different relationships with their own compassion. Roger is compassionate, but in the focused and at times selfish way that a child is. Sherlock is a man who has lacked compassion for the majority of his life, and has come upon it too late. Laura Linney's Mrs. Munroe is a housekeeper forced into the role of caretaker and a mother, and yet she is compassionate only from behind the walls built by someone who has been hurt. 

The film is very much worth seeing for the interactions of these characters alone, though the smattering of mysteries that tie it together are engaging enough to keep you in your seat throughout the two hours. It moves along at a good pace, some moments slower than others, but never so that I was checking my watch or wondering when it might end, and though it is probably not the ideal date night movie, it does have a lot of heartfelt moments and a few good chuckles. 

I found it absolutely worthwhile, and a delightful movie, well worth the watch.