In this meditative film, a ninety-three year old Sherlock Holmes returns to his final case, the one that’s haunted him for decades, in an attempt to find closure. But while this film has mystery elements, it’s really a drama first and foremost; this movie is about the title character, not his case. It’s an exploration of Holmes as a human being and it really succeeds beautifully. Ian McKellen is beyond brilliant as the aging Holmes; he finds the burden of guilt over the final case and really makes it a palpable thing. It’s a masterclass performance. He’s given able support by a really fine Laura Linney as his long-suffering house-keeper, Milo Rogers as the house-keeper’s precocious son (who gets several big laughs in the otherwise very serious movie) and, best of all, Hattie Morahan as the mysterious woman at the heart of Holmes’ last case. The big scene between McKellen and Morahan, no spoilers, is just brilliant; Morahan holds her own against McKellen with a vivid, emotionally raw performance. But the film is about so many really evocative and relatable things. It’s about the battle between reality & perception (or one could say truth & fiction perhaps) and how both of those things define our lives; it’s also about the battle between logic and emotions and McKellen really shines in the scenes where this struggle comes to the fore; it’s also about despair & loneliness and the battle to escape those things. It’s a surprisingly dark movie at times, very dramatically heavy, and it earns its emotional catharsis with some very emotionally raw and draining scenes. The film is methodical and precise; it’s loaded with strange elements, like a section that takes place in Japan, but this is a film where every single thing on screen means something. It’s slow and brooding; in no way, a thriller, but it’s magnificent and resonant in some really powerful ways. Condon’s created a real masterwork here; everything is in place as a beautifully crafted film, but Condon mirrors the central struggle by letting some extremely messy emotions into this meticulously crafted film. Well done, Mr. Holmes. 4 stars.
tl;dr – meticulous, meditative film explores questions of identity and despair and humanizes the great detective along the way. 4 stars.