The world’s two greatest masters of the art of deduction, Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud, meet for the first time in this delightful mystery adventure based on the best-selling novel by Nicholas Meyer. This stylishly-directed entertainment boasts a superb cast headed by Nicol Williamson as Holmes, Alan Arkin as Freud and, in a brilliant example of off-beat casting, Robert Duvall as Dr. Watson. To this ingenious tale of Detection, addiction and abduction must be added to the excitement of the chase – capped by a sword fight on top of a puffing locomotive roaring across Europe.
eyelights: Lawrence Olivier. its take on Holmes’ addiction.
eyesores: Robert Duvall’s peculiar accent. Alan Arkin’s mumbled delivery.
‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’ is a Sherlock Holmes film based on the novel by Nicholas Meyer, who adapted it for the screen himself. I was quite surprised to discover that he had written it, given that he is closely tied to the success of the Star Trek franchise during the ’80s, directing ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn’ and ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’ and penning ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’.
He is also the writer and director of Time After Time‘, the time travel adventure that pits H.G. Wells vs. Jack the Ripper. Amusingly enough, in ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’, Meyers decides to cross another historical figure with a fictional one, Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud, taking them on a crime-solving adventure together – with the able assistance of Dr. Watson, of course.
The key element of this story, however, and what distinguishes it from the other Holmes shows that I’ve seen, is that it focuses on Holmes’ addiction to cocaine, which he injects in a seven-per-cent solution – hence the title, which may otherwise suggest some sort of mystery. In this film, most of the time is devoted to Holmes’ rehabilitation from his addiction with the help of Freud.
There are some nightmarish sequences of Holmes’ feverish hallucinations, as his body and mind return to a healthier state. Holmes is not in his usual form, evidently, and is bed-ridden for a sizeable part, leaving Watson and Freud to befriend each other as they discuss the matter of his mental health, debilitated by his dependency and his delirious assertions that Moriarty, his former tutor, is an evil genius.
This story’s Moriarty is a nervous little man, obviously shaken by the threatening letters that Holmes constantly sends him. He goes so far as to visit with Watson, pleading for sanity before he is forced to consult a lawyer. While at first I thought that this might be a ploy, this is in fact the truth of this story: Moriarty is no more an evil genius than your average school teacher – now grizzled and worn down with age.
‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’s Moriarty is played by none other than Lawrence Oliver, in what is a fine performance indeed. Frankly, despite carefully reading the opening credit, so committed to the part was Olivier that I didn’t detect him in his disguise; I sincerely believed that they had gotten an average old man to play the part. Only during the closing credits was I awakened to the fact that I had just watched the thespian extraordinaire.
Meanwhile, Nicol Williamson plays a solid Sherlock Holmes; he made Holmes fierce and vulnerable at once. Aside from a few minor parts, he was unfamilair to me, and I had to read him up to confirm that I had seen him before, his name being wholly unfamiliar to me. While I initially had an issue with his portrayal of Holmes under the influence, after reminding myself that cocaine likely would make one agitated I found the rest of portrayal quite credible.
The problem comes with Dr. Watson and Sigmund Freud, played here by Robert Duvall and Alan Arkin, respectively. While Duvall can be an exceptional actor, here he dons an inconsistent accent that should have been overdubbed in post, so distracting it was – Keanu Reeves may have done better, if that says anything. As for Arkin… I’ve always found his delivery slightly Novocained, thus annoying, but here he combined it with a limp accent that was difficult to bear.
Given that these two got the most screen time, it sometimes made for a tedious affair – especially when we were left alone with both of them, watching them exchange words in otherwordly dictions. With a simple dubbing, their performances would have been easily digestible, as both of them otherwise delivered properly subdued, professional performances. Thankfully, it wasn’t so horrible as to ruin the film, which is well put together.
In fact, the direction was flawless for most of the picture, leaving the viewer to sit back and enjoy it effortlessly. The only time that it was less so was during the train chase sequence – and subsequent fight atop the train carriage, which was slightly incoherent at times. Was this due to poor editing or was the director unable to get the proper coverage for the piece to come together fluidly? Who knows. But it was hardly a major issue.
If anything ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’ comes off as a very solid Sherlock Holmes story that delved more into the personal side of the legendary sleuth – as opposed to the whodunnits that we are usually privy to. It takes takes a look into the psyche of a wounded man who has lost control of the only means by which he retained his sanity. It’s an interesting take on the character and it’s a creative way to look at drug addiction from a causal perspective.
It’s not the most memorable Sherlock Holmes film, but ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’ stands out for taking a novel but realistic approach to its subject, something that Guy Ritchie’s iteration of the character fails to do. In my estimation, we could do with more thoughtful, intelligent Sherlock Holmes stories such as this one; he may be a heroic figure, but beyond the icon is a human being with frailties.
‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’ does a fine job of exploring this side of him.
Date of viewing: April 7, 2013