See the world's most famous detective as you've never seen him before, portrayed by acting legend Ian McKellen, in this ingeniously plotted suspense-thriller. For thirty years, Sherlock Holmes has been haunted by his final case, one that remains unsolved. Now, spurred by a mysterious trip to Japan, Holmes quietly slips out of retirement to confront the ghosts of his past-and a spellbinding mystery that will take all of his deductive powers to solve.
There have been dozens of different takes on the Sherlock Holmes character over the years. The youthful version seen in 'Young Sherlock Holmes', the modern-day Sherlock seen in both the BBC series and the American series 'Elementary', the recent Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey, Jr. collaborations, and even spoofs of the character as seen in Without a Clue. And these are just some of the modern-day updates. Yes, we've been entertained by Sherlock Holmes for years, so it's rare to see a movie that brings something new and fresh to the character – but that's exactly what Director Bill Condon and star Ian McKellen bring audiences with 'Mr. Holmes'.
The movie is based upon the novel 'A Slight Trick of the Mind' by Mitch Cullin, and brings us a retired Holmes (McKellen) at the age of 93, now living with a housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son (Milo Parker) and spending much of his time as a beekeeper in the yard outside his home. As the movie opens, Holmes has returned from a trip to Japan, where he's obtained an indigenous plant from a local (Helix's Hiroyuki Sanada) in the hopes that it will help restore – or at least slow down – his faltering memory.
That's right, the Sherlock of this story is losing the one thing that makes him who he is – his incredible intellect – and Holmes' struggle with his declining mental capacity is one of the heartbreaking things about watching this movie. In this story, Holmes is part of the real world and it's Dr. Watson (now no longer part of Sherlock's life) who has written all the tales about him, with one exception: he's given them all happy endings that praise Holmes' abilities. One such book is based on Holmes' final case…a case that drove him into retirement. Before he dies, Sherlock wants to write the real story of his final case, but he's been struggling to remember what actually happened.
The case in question (flashbacks have McKellen playing a 'younger' aging Holmes sans the old-age makeup he has in other scenes) involves a young married couple, where the husband has come to Holmes for help. His wife has lost two children during pregnancy, can't have any more, and has been in a state of depression ever since. Holmes uses his intellect to deduce the wife's actions, but misses what her true intentions are, leading to a tragedy. There's a parallel involving the loneliness of the wife in Holmes' final case and Holmes' own loneliness that this movie does a great job of portraying. Few films have touched upon Holmes' isolation as powerfully as it is addressed in 'Mr. Holmes'.
Which is not to say that Sherlock is incapable of making a human connection. His housekeeper's young son, Roger, is fascinated with Holmes, his beekeeping, and the story he's attempting to write, and the relationship between the two – very much like a grandfather/grandson – is another one of the joys of watching this movie. The housekeeper, Mrs. Munro, is a little less thrilled with taking care of Holmes (in fact, she tries to get out from under his wing during most of the story), but she too will eventually warm up to him.
After all these years, it's hard to believe that a Sherlock Holmes movie would have something new to explore about the character, but 'Mr. Holmes' brings us a tale about aging, loss, and loneliness that proves to be both depressing and inspiring at the same time. I really wish the movie had been released later in the year, as McKellen gives an award-worthy performance here that is likely to be forgotten by more recent endeavors when Hollywood starts recognizing the best of 2015. This is a wonderful little movie that ranks not only as one of the best of the year, but the best of any Holmes-themed titles we've seen to date.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Mr. Holmes' arrives on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the 25GB single-layer disc along with an insert for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Love & Mercy, Z for Zachariah, The End of the Tour, and Some Kind of Beautiful, plus a promo ad for the Epix movie channel. The main menu is a combination of a still photo of Ian McKellen as Holmes (as seen on the box cover) plus a video montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'Mr. Holmes' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa XT cameras and is presented here in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. As one might expect, the detail and clarity of this presentation is top-notch, with wonderful details and depth, inky black levels, and an overall amount of 'pop' to the image that really shows in some of the exterior footage in the movie.
From a technical aspect, the image is virtually free of any glitches. While there are some very minor spots of aliasing here and there that the keen eye will catch, things like banding, noise, or other problems are non-existent. Both the color scheme and skin tones are properly balanced throughout. Overall this is a really impressive looking transfer that falls just a tad short of being a reference-quality one.
The only audio option on this release is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that more than serves this movie's needs. As one can probably suspect, 'Mr. Holmes' is a dialogue-heavy movie, but it also has opportunities for the track to use some ambient sounds, like when Holmes travels by train or does his beekeeping duties in the backyard of his home. Composer Carter Burwell's wonderful score also comes across nicely on this track. Everything here is properly mixed and overall this is a pleasant – although ultimately unremarkable – audio presentation.
In addition to the lossless track, subtitles are available in English SDH, English, and Spanish.
It's hard to believe 'Mr. Holmes' marks the first time Ian McKellen has played Sherlock Holmes, but it was worth the wait. This is a moving story that has the great detective facing the biggest challenge of his life – the loss of his memory due to aging. It's a tale of heartbreak, loneliness, and regret, but it's also one of hope and righting old wrongs, and it's definitely one of the better Sherlock Holmes stories ever to make it to the big screen. Recommended.