SFIFF: Conveying genius of Sherlock Holmes not so elementary
Photo: Photo Illus By Michael Ordona
Sherlock Holmes as played by Basil Rathbone (left), Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch and Sir Ian McKellen: Searching for genius.
Here’s the problem with Sherlock Holmes movies (and TV shows): There aren’t enough super-geniuses in the world.
To make Holmes work, writers, directors and actors must conjure a passable spark of genius, and that requires an equivalent level of megawatt brain power.
And it’s not just an intellectual problem; it’s a dramatic one. Great athlete? Just watch. Great musician? Just listen. Great intellect? Just … think?
“The Theory of Everything” won the Oscar for Eddie Redmayne’s transformative performance asStephen Hawking. It conveyed the tribulations of a marriage and the trials of an ALS sufferer, but the genius portion of the menu was skimped upon. We were told of, not blown away by, Hawking’s incredible breakthroughs.
The Robert Downey Jr.-Guy Ritchie Holmes movies are more about the actor’s charisma, the director’s technique and Sherlock-as-action-hero than puzzling along with the world’s greatest detective.
Even the Benedict Cumberbatch BBC series relies on cheat after cheat — he’s working on mysteries to which we’re not given all the clues he has. No knock on the excellent Cumberbatch, but TV’s “House” got away with that “I’ve got more info than you” trick because the quandaries were rooted in actual medicine.
Back when Basil Rathbone was sussing ’em out in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939), super-sleuthing was new to viewers. Since then, we’ve become inured to TV procedurals (and “Scooby-Doo”) with mysteries always one fiber analysis away from being solved in 42 minutes plus commercials.
Not since the first two Hannibal Lecter movies, “Manhunter” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” has there been a recurring character that amazed with intelligence — even more so in Thomas Harris’ deeply researched and inventive source novels.
Now Sir Ian McKellen reunites with “Gods and Monsters” director Bill Condon in “Mr. Holmes,” receiving its U.S. premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival on Saturday, April 25. McKellen’s casting implies an approach less about misanthropic quirks and fisticuffs than capturing the eye-twinkle of living thought.
Let’s hope it does more to blow our minds than other recent Holmes boys did.