I am a sucker for a good period piece. I just am. I can’t resist them. The rustic setting of Mr. Holmes, in a quiet little rural cottage in some seaside English hamlet was worth the price of admission. However, the story about an elderly Sherlock Holmes with early onset dementia, a bee obsession and a bit of an opium habit undertaking a Memento-style mission to remember how he solved his final case 30 years ago (and thus bring peace to his withered soul) was not deserving of the charmingly bucolic surroundings.
The time-line is also confusing because they tried to age Ian McKellen down for the early 1900s scenes but not even the magic of movies could pull of that trick, so he just looked kind of like a past-his-prime Bella Lugosi wandering around Edwardian London looking for a kebab shop. Furthermore, the elderly Holmes’ connection with his working class housekeeper's precocious young son was, while necessary I guess to give the movie some kind of cohesion, utterly uninteresting. When the young boy gets stung seemingly to death by bees, Holmes thinks it through for a while, deduces the true assassin and runs around screaming “It wasn’t the bees. It was the wasps!” in the same way one might declare "It was Colonel Mustard in the Study with the Candlestick!" This is meant to be the film's climax, but it made me want to punch myself in the face.
Having said all that, the idea was solid. Great actor, cast opposite Laura Linney, in the role of a once-great, nearly superhuman sleuth struggling to come to terms with mortality and the decline of his abilities. That is a pretty interesting premise. Plus there was room for clever meta-commentary on the nature of myth-making, which they went for, but handled clumsily. Too much emphasis was placed on this young woman who killed herself, and how that drove Sherlock to isolation – and I mean, really, McKellen’s age was a distraction in these scenes. Ultimately, I think they tried to play it for pathos way too hard and it showed. Instead of an interesting premise developed well, it comes off as a stodgy artificial tear-jerker targeted at people like my mom (who, incidentally, would probably love this film).