The case of a masterpiece

It seems pre­pos­ter­ous to sug­gest that, at 76, after so much stun­ning work, Ian McK­el­len has giv­en the per­form­ance of his ca­reer.

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It seems pre­pos­ter­ous to sug­gest that, at 76, after so much stun­ning work, Ian McK­el­len has giv­en the per­form­ance of his ca­reer. But that’s the sense one gets when leav­ing “Mr. Holmes,” the gor­geous new mys­tery that re­unites McK­el­len with his “Gods and Mon­sters” dir­ect­or, Bill Con­don. From stage to screen, McK­el­len has un­can­nily em­bod­ied char­ac­ters cre­ated by Shakespeare and Tolki­en, yet he’s nev­er quite brought such world-weary pathos to a role as he does to that of an aging Sher­lock Holmes.

“Mr. Holmes” plays it straight, ac­know­ledging the now 93-year-old sleuth as a real, re­tired de­tect­ive, whose famed per­sona was built via case ac­counts penned and pub­lished by his late part­ner, Dr. John Wat­son. Now, Holmes is at­tempt­ing to write a book of his own, haunted by a par­tic­u­lar case in­volving a wo­man and her mis­car­ried chil­dren, and suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia that wor­sens by the day. Fresh from a trip to Hiroshi­ma where he sought out herb­al rem­ed­ies, Holmes is stay­ing in a rur­al home in Sus­sex with his house­keep­er (Laura Lin­ney) and her son (Mi­lo Park­er), who’s deftly, if some­what un­wit­tingly, eas­ing him­self in­to be­com­ing Holmes’s suc­cessor.

From the paint­erly shots of sweep­ing gar­dens to the nar­rat­ive’s slow, del­ic­ate burn, “Mr. Holmes” is con­sum­mately grace­ful, and a glor­i­ous re­bound for a film­maker who oddly, if some­what ex­cit­ingly, op­ted to wrap up the bum­bling “Twi­light” saga. The film is a pae­an to memory, loss and memory loss, all tied to a fic­tion­al icon made vividly real­ist­ic. McK­el­len play­fully rel­ishes lines that de­bunk com­mon myths (Holmes nev­er wore a deer­stalk­er, for ex­ample), but also loses him­self in mo­ments of crush­ing vul­ner­ab­il­ity and re­gret.

Ad­mit­tedly, McK­el­len’s per­form­ance may have more pro­found im­pact giv­en his age, and that we’ve seen him evolve on screen for so long. There’s emo­tion­al bag­gage in his turn as Holmes, which is no doubt in­formed by the weathered ex­per­i­ences that every act­or brings to his work. But not every act­or can, or needs to be, so bare and bold and ex­quis­ite in his real­iz­a­tion of a role. McK­el­len isn’t just show­ing us Holmes, he’s show­ing us him­self — and, just maybe, that he’s the finest act­or alive today.

Mr. Holmes

PG
Four reels out of four
Now play­ing at area theat­ers

Re­com­men­ded Rent­al

White God

R
Avail­able Tues­day

An ar­rest­ingly pho­to­graphed fest­iv­al hit, “White God” starts off as a bit­ter­sweet story of a girl and her dog, and soon es­cal­ates in­to man versus beast war film that strives to cri­tique hu­man­ity’s at­tempt to har­ness an­im­als. Stray dogs re­volt against a city of men, and the fer­al ven­geance the young girl fights to main­tain is like noth­ing you’ve seen be­fore. 

Con­tact the South Philly Re­view at ed­it­or@south­phil­lyre­view.com.


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