The film fills in the details of Holmes’ three-year spell of assumed death — “Only the facts have been made up,” teases a title card — by pairing the great detective with the great psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud. Arguably more notable is that Solution is the first dilated-pupils depiction of Holmes, the only to tackle head-on his famous habit of cocaine injection, hence the title.
As it opens in 1891, a cloud of cocaine paranoia has Holmes (Nicol Williamson, Excalibur) convinced that the mild-mannered Professor Moriarty (Laurence Olivier, Sleuth) is actually a devious criminal mastermind. Fearing for his partner’s sanity, if not life, Dr.Watson (Robert Duvall, Jack Reacher) fabricates an intervention of sorts, which takes the two to the Vienna home of Dr. Freud (Arkin, Argo).
To see Holmes as a twitchy, hallucinating figure is a welcome difference to the in-control know-it-all we’re used to (and who comes into play in the later stages of withdrawal when a patient of Freud’s, played by Vanessa Redgrave of TV’s current Call the Midwife, is kidnapped). It’s a delightful performance in an overall spirited production that’s more comedy than mystery, despite the dark, third-act turns and theme of drug addiction.
Director Herbert Ross (Footloose) and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (working from his own hit pastiche novel and appearing on the disc’s lone special feature) keep events bubbling along as they simultaneously tweak and pay tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. Opening with Sidney Paget’s illustrations that accompanied the stories’ original publication, Solution works in clever references to the Holmes canon, from “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” to The Hound of the Baskervilles (and even Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”).
It’d make a great double feature with Billy Wilder’s neglected 1970 film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, if you can stand to sit still for four hours. —Rod Lott
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