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Mr. Holmes’ takes a different approach to the legendary detective

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Ian McKellen’s Holmes doesn’t feel like a copy of any of the dozens of other actors who’ve played the character.

Three stars

Mr. Holmes Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker. Directed by Bill Condon. Rated PG. Opens Friday.

It’s hard to come up with a fresh angle on Sherlock Holmes, especially when there are so many other portrayals of the iconic detective character in the pop-culture spotlight. Mr. Holmes doesn’t try to outdo the likes of Sherlock or Elementary in its depiction of the world’s greatest detective, instead opting to present a quieter, frailer version of the character in his twilight years. Ian McKellen continues his streak of playing the most iconic figures of genre fiction by taking on the role of the retired 93-year-old Holmes, who tools around his rural estate tending to the bees in his apiary and fighting against his failing memory.

The movie (based on Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind) follows three threads, as Holmes befriends the young son (Milo Parker) of his disapproving housekeeper (Laura Linney) in the present, flashes back to his recent visit to Japan to procure a plant with alleged memory-restoring properties, and tries to recall the details of his final case, which drove him into retirement 35 years earlier.

The tone is more contemplative than suspenseful, and the resolutions to the various mysteries rely on sentiment over deductive reasoning. McKellen brings a strong mix of authority and regret to his performance, and his Holmes doesn’t feel like a copy of any of the dozens of other actors who’ve played the character. Mr. Holmes doesn’t have the same emotional power or visual style as McKellen’s and director Bill Condon’s 1998 collaboration Gods and Monsters, but it’s a similarly sensitive character study of an aging icon.

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