Directed by Bill Condon. Produced by Anne Carey, Iain Canning, and Emile Sherman. Written by Jeffrey Hatcher. Release date: July 17, 2015.
I don't think we've ever seen Sherlock Holmes presented as old as he is in Mr. Holmes. We join him at the age of 93, three decades after he retired from solving mysteries, with his memory beginning to fail him. The film probably would have worked better if it had just focused on this - on a man having to come to terms with his greatest asset, his mind, starting to deteriorate; on a complete debunking of the myths surrounding his fame; on the interactions between him and a young admirer. We get all of that here, but unfortunately we also have to flash back to the mystery that ended his career.
The problem with this is not inherent to the premise, which sees Holmes (Ian McKellen) trying to write the true story of this case - not the fictionalized and romanticized version that his partner, Dr. Watson, published. However, his memory is failing, so he only winds up recalling so much at a time. Whenever he does, we flash back to 30 years earlier and get a few more bits and pieces of the case. In theory, this could work; in practice, it ruins the pacing of the film.
Some films are able to build momentum with an idea like this. Perhaps the best example is Cloud Atlas, which tied together the themes and plots of six stories and seamlessly transitioned between the two. Mr. Holmes, conversely, halts its momentum almost completely every time we flip between timelines. We start to become invested in the story of an elderly Holmes, only to then go back in time to a case we don't particularly care about. When the mystery starts to get intriguing, the memory ends and we go back to the older Holmes, almost in turn forgetting where we were with him. The stories don't mirror each other or have any real connectivity, which means that each time we flip between them there's a lack of cohesion - at least until the end, at which point it was already too late. By the time it uses this idea to tie together a single theme - is it a surprise to say that it involves the struggle between logic and emotion? - it's already started and stopped so frequently that it's almost too much of a struggle to pay attention to what it's trying to say.