Loneliness, regret, and self-betrayal, by way of body and mind, offer recognizable landmarks marking the end of the road of life. Some fortunately avoid these outposts, but no one—no matter how great—escapes the degenerative effects of age and, of course, the final destination. Perhaps, though, we feel a twinge more poignancy to see exceptional individuals face these levelers of mortality, as in the curious case of Mr. Holmes.
That's Sherlock Holmes, embodied in his wheezy, wizened days by Ian McKellen. The star reunites with writer-director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) for Jeffrey Hatcher's incisive adaptation of Mitch Cullin's novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, resulting in another Oscar-caliber performance and another witty, fascinating, thematically dynamic personal and interpersonal drama. At age 93, the world's greatest consulting detective has long since retired to a Sussex farmhouse, under the watchful eyes of housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker). The former keeps an eye on Holmes' declining health and the latter on his activities, which have educational side effects for the boy.
The old man and the boy enact the roles of master and apprentice around Holmes' apiary, and as Holmes labors to write a memoir, Roger presses his father figure to share each new passage (though, pointedly, Roger has forgotten the "invisible stories" of his departed father). Holmes intends the memoir as a counterpoint to Dr. Watson's famous accounts of mysteries solved ("Fiction is worthless," Holmes grumbles), as well as a vehicle for the detective to piece together his dimly remembered final case and divine the reason he drove himself into retirement. In flashbacks (or, more accurately, stories subjectively reconstructed), Holmes investigates a client's wayward wife (Hattie Morahan) and crosses paths with a glass armonica teacher (Frances de la Tour) making claims of occult powers.
Here too we find a sprier, sharper man than the hangdog Holmes of the present, who moves in quietly cantankerous slow motion as he attempts to stave off senility. In both modes (and in false nose, no less), McKellen dazzles, and he's ably supported by an ensemble that also sports Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine) as Holmes' Japanese guide on an expedition to collect potentially mind-ameliorating prickly ash from post-war Hiroshima. The pleasingly busy narrative serves as effective commentary on itself: Mr. Holmes spins a tale about the falsely drawn lines between stories and our perceptions of real life, between celebrity image and genuine persona, and between upper and lower classes.
Along with the devastating forefront theme of identity challenged by age and threatened by inescapable death, the concerns amount to a deeply poignant, even profound reflection on the deceptive scale of natural existence: for all our self-torturous navel-gazing, we're not so different from the birds and the bees as we go about our business and, at last, the way of all things.
Lionsgate delivers bang-up A/V for the Blu-ray debut of Mr. Holmes. Picture quality proves outstanding, with a digital-to-digital transfer that excels in all areas. The film sports a just-so look, with soft-lit, shadowy interiors and mostly sunny-bright exteriors filled in with rich hues accurately rendered on disc. Well-calibrated contrast supports the sharp detail and palpable textures (though, no doubt intentionally, shadow detail isn't a strength of the photography); the transfer also thoroughly banishes compression artifacts, save for a touch of aliasing. The accompanying lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is more than up to this quiet film's tasks, which are primarily dialogue (prioritized) and music (robustly reproduced); surround channels engage for some nice ambience when required, most notably in the outdoor scenes, or to provide faint exterior sounds for urban interiors.
The bonus features on this disc are deeply disappointing: no commentary, no making-of documentary, no extensive sitdowns with director Bill Condon and/or stars Sir Ian McKellen and Laura Linney. Instead we get two scanty EPK-style promos with clips and interview snippets—"Mr. Holmes: The Icon" (2:21, HD) and "Mr. Holmes: The Story" (2:49, HD)—and the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:25, HD). Nevertheless, the film's the thing, and this one's well worth it as one of the best of the year, with performances to match. Especially for Holmes fans, there should be no question about picking up this Blu-ray...it's elementary.
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