By Brendan de Vere (Sydney, Australia)
Sherlock Holmes makes a return to the big screen but if you are expecting a Robert Downey Jr. action packed film full of nasties, wonderfully witty remarks and big explosions then you are in for a rude shock. This film deals more with the great detective’s mortality than his outstanding abilities in logic and investigation.
Ian McKellen gets his turn to portray Conan Doyle’s legendary character and he does not disappoint. In 1947 Sherlock Holmes is a very old man, retired and living on an estate in the beautiful English countryside with his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her curious and intelligent son, Roger (Milo Parker). The great detective now spends a considerable amount of time attending to his bees and frustratingly trying to piece together the fragments of the last case he ever worked on thirty years prior. Holmes memory is fast failing him and with John Watson no longer around for the great man to bounce his ideas off we see a very different Sherlock painstakingly live through the case in flashbacks with the help and perseverance of his young friend Roger.
The performances of the lead actors are wonderful with McKellen proving he is more than just a wizard from Middle Earth. Linney has rarely done a bad performance but it is young Milo Parker that should get the kudos in his performance as Roger who stands up well alongside McKellen’s Sherlock. Bill Condon who directed Kinsey and Dreamgirls tries to bring the viewer a very different side to Sherlock Holmes, one of vulnerability and regret and I think that he has achieved this. There are still glimpses of the fast witted and intelligent detective that he once was but Condon also raises the themes of loneliness, emptiness and hope which is portrayed so beautifully by McKellen.
It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon and at almost two hours is the perfect length before the drama of it all can become too tiresome. If there is a down side to this film is that it does wane a little in the middle as we watch Sherlock deal with his frailties. This can be confronting to the viewer who is used to seeing the iconic character in a far less compromising position. This is of course the main theme that Bill Condon is trying to get across to the viewer. The acting’s perfect, the story is sound so in my view a job well done.