Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
United Kingdom/USA, 2015. Miramax, Roadside Attractions, BBC Films, FilmNation Entertainment, Archer Gray, See-Saw Films, Twenty First City. Screen story by Mitch Cullin, Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher, based on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, from characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle. Cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler. Produced by Iain Canning, Anne Carey, Emile Sherman. Music by Carter Burwell. Production Design by Martin Childs. Costume Design by Keith Madden. Film Editing by Virginia Katz. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2015.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s eternal detective hero has seen better days when this film begins, a now frail old man (portrayed by Ian McKellen) who has left Baker Street and installed himself in a Sussex home with a stiff-backed housekeeper (Laura Linney, playing unconvincing Britishness) and her adoring, Holmes-expert son (Milo Parker, who is marvelous). Holmes, we find out, gained flourishes through Watson’s stories about him that never existed in real life (such as the deerstalker hat and the pipe), which he might possibly set right given that he is now working on writing an account of his own, which the boy can’t wait to read in full detail. The detective’s memory isn’t what it used to be, so between scenes of him and the young man indulging his passion for beekeeping, he flashes back alternately between a recent experience in Japan, where he went in search of a substance called “prickly ash”, and a case from thirty years earlier involving an unhappy housewife, the results of which caused him to close up shop and give up detecting. Bill Condon’s smooth script moves between all these dramatic conflicts and time periods with impressive ease, never for a moment confusing the viewer, while rich characters and strong performances encourage sympathy for the characters’ current concerns as well as piquing interest in mysteries of the past. The film’s rich texture and many layers don’t reveal much in the climax, however, as it’s a film that is more interesting in description than execution and the dramatic revelations it builds up to are not all that revelatory. A mystery that turns out, ironically, to be The Hours is a fascinating concept, but the drama we are given in place of intrigue is limp; the situation that leads the world’s greatest detective to turn up his bloodhound nose should be something a lot more groundbreaking. This respectable venture is well worth seeing, however, for McKellen’s letter-perfect performance.