Interesting high concept - an elderly genius tries to solve the mystery of his own retirement, obfuscated by dementia and guilt - but the writing isn't interesting or tricksy enough, and certainly not worthy of the great Conan Doyle stories. The performances hold it together, and the photography of the Sussex coast is stunning.
While the concept of a logical Holmes encountering the one thing beyond his understanding (actual human emotion) could have been played for cheap sentimentality, Condon's film hits somewhat harder. As an investigation into memory as an effort to understand what it is to be hurt by something beyond rational comprehension, the film ably touches on issues of war, genocide, failure & grief in a profound & compelling way.
Ian McKellen is magnificent in a role tailor made to his strengths but unfortunately the scripting is not of the same quality. Meandering script lacks focus with a background story that just really isn't very interesting. Supporting turns by Linney and young Milo Parker are quite strong and one wishes the full focus of the film were more centered around them.
I have no idea who this movie is for. How do you finance such a screenplay? It goes down three different trails to no effect. There seems to be the suggestion that if you are not careful you may end up alone. What if that's not so tragic? The regrets that bedevil Mr. Holmes are asinine. A detective's insight into the human would seem to preclude such dwelling. Not quite whimsy. Whimsy requires a pulse.
Mediocre as both character study and golden years drama, significantly less effective as mystery. It never seemed clear what tone or story interested the film the most, but it's not without its modest pleasures. To the extent that this film is successful it's because of McKellen. He's simply so facile, a brilliant technical actor who gives the film some much needed grounding.