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With: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Roger Allam, Philip Davis, Frances de la Tour
Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher, based on a novel by Mitch Cullin
Directed by: Bill Condon
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking
Running Time: 104
Date: 07/17/2015

Mr. Holmes (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Holmes Alone

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After a pair of Twilight movies, director Bill Condon returns to the territory of his best movie Gods and Monsters with this thoughtful, low-key movie about the mysteries of memory and storytelling. Mr. Holmes may disappoint viewers by not actually being a Sherlock Holmes mystery (nor is it an explosion movie like Guy Ritche's Sherlock Holmes), but it's a great movie, an absolutely brilliant rumination on the delicate nature of human memory and the way we need to tell stories, not just for entertainment, but to live.

At age 93, the real-life Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen, aided by an extraordinary makeup job) is retired, living by the seaside and tending bees. A grumpy housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), helps to take care of him. He travels to Japan to obtain a medicine called "prickly ash" to jog his memory. Something about his final case leaves him with an uneasy feeling, and the fictional version written by the late Mr. Watson has a happy ending and doesn't add up. The housekeeper's young son Roger (Milo Parker) becomes interested in the story, and Holmes finds bits of it returning as he teaches the boy about bees. The case involved a sad woman whose husband wants her followed, and bit by bit, Holmes begins to understand why, and what really happened to her. (In a clever touch, Nicholas Rowe, the star of Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), plays a fictional, onscreen Holmes when McKellen's Holmes goes to the movies.)

Working from Mitch Cullin's novel, screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher (Casanova, The Duchess) constructs an elaborate series of meditative flashbacks, dreams, and memories. It's deep and complex and Condon makes it all seem quietly simple. Nothing seems concrete or certain, yet everything is connected, from the use of glass and bees, books and movies, to young Roger's inability to remember stories from his early years. The fine performances by Condon regulars McKellen and Linney (Kinsey) -- both deserving of Oscars -- top it off.

Lionsgate released a very lovely Blu-Ray edition that nicely captures the quiet intimacy of this movie. Sadly, the only extras are a couple of very short, studio-produced featurettes, and a trailer for this and other Lionsgate movies.

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