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Overall Rating
3.58

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look66.67%
Average: 29.17%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 4.17%

3 reviews, 6 user ratings



Sleuth (2007)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Funny Games"
4 stars

Whether or not you enjoy Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Anthony Shaffer’s “Sleuth” will depend to a large extent on whether or not you have seen it before–either on stage or, more likely, the acclaimed 1972 screen version that featured Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine going head-to-head in a deadly game of class-based one-upmanship. The story is one of those intricately conceived series of double-crosses, reversals and shocking developments that effectively knock you out the first time you see them but which necessarily lose their impact on a second viewing. Therefore, if you never got around to seeing the previous version, you are likely to find this one to be an exciting and twisty thriller that always manages to pull some nifty new twist out of its well-tailored sleeve. If you have seen it before, however, your response is likely to be a little more muted–it is undeniably well-done but more so than most of the current strain of movie remakes, it never quite gets around to offering up any compelling reason for its existence

Set within the confines of an elaborate and isolated London manor–this one a high-tech paradise under the watch of what seems to be a limitless number of security cameras–“Sleuth” begins as Milo Tindle (Jude Law) arrives for a meeting with the man of the house, Andrew Wyke (Michael Caine). On the surface, the two men couldn’t be more dissimilar–Andrew is a well-known author of mystery novels who enjoys reminding his guest about the details of his wealth, fame, power and intelligence whenever he gets the opportunity while Milo is a struggling actor who conspicuously lacks all of those qualities that Andrew holds dear, but does have wit and a certain amount of charm–but we soon discover that the two actually do have something in common after all. That something is Andrew’s wife, who has taken Milo as a lover and who has just walked out on the former for good in order to move in with the latter. However, Andrew won’t grant his wife a divorce, mostly out of spite, and so Milo has come to the older man’s house at his invitation in the hopes of persuading him to finally sign the divorce papers and let her go for good.

Once again, Andrew refuses to grant the divorce but he does offer Milo an intriguing alternative. You see, while he doesn’t want to grant his wife a divorce, he doesn’t much want to have her back in his life and since she is a woman of expensive tastes, he figures that once she gets a taste of what life is like as the wife of a struggling actor, she will come running back to him. In addition, Andrew also has a number of well-insured jewels tucked away in a hidden safe that are worth an enormous amount of money. What Andrew proposes is that Milo should break into the house and steal the jewels, using a plan of his own devising, and make the entire thing look like a robbery. That way, Andrew can collect on the considerable insurance money on the jewels and Milo will be able to fence them for enough money to keep the missus in the style she has grown accustomed to without her needing to ask for alimony. After mulling it over for a bit, Milo agrees to the plan and it is at this point, maybe a half-hour or so into the film, that I must curtail the plot description so as to prevent offering up any possible spoilers.

In adapting Shaffer’s play for this version, Harold Pinter has stuck to the basic parameters of the story with the chief difference being a certain streamlining of the material–while the original film clocked in at 2 ½ hours, this take is nearly 50 minutes shorter without losing too many of the plot details. On the one hand, this keeps thing humming along at a fairly rapid clip–perhaps not the worst idea when you consider the familiarity of the material–but the quick pace does wreak a little havoc with the conceit of Andrew being a man who has dedicated his entire life to playing games. This aspect of his character is certainly discussed quite a bit but because the story is hurtling along so quickly, we never get a chance to actually see this obsession play out before our eyes as things unfold. The streamlining also affects the finale as well–what was once an elaborately staged reversal of fortune has been pruned away so completely that it feels as if it is almost over before it has hardly begun. The other problem with the screenplay can’t really be ascribed to Pinter because it was also the biggest flaw in the original–the inescapable fact that while the big second-act twist may sound good on paper and play well on the stage, it is the kind of thing that doesn’t quite come off when done within the more intimate confines of the silver screen. It didn’t quite work back in 1972 and it certainly doesn’t work here–even those unfamiliar with the material are likely to twig to what is really going on long before the twist is revealed.

These are problems, to be sure, but while watching “Sleuth” unfold, I didn’t really mind them that much because I was having too much fun watching Michael Caine and Jude Law locked in their constantly evolving battle of wits. Having previously played the role of Milo in the 1972 version, Caine has graduated to playing the older and occasionally wiser Andrew and right from the start, it is clear that he is having a blast with the part–this may be the most cheerfully entertaining work that he has done in a long time. Sure, his work here is more than a little hammy but this is the kind of outsized role for which a certain level of hamminess is almost a necessity. (Laurence Olivier certain didn’t go the shrinking violet route when he played the part.) Although most actors might have found themselves being blown off the screen by Caine’s exertions, Jude Law manages to more than hold his own as the younger and callower Milo–although his off-screen activities have garnered more press than his on-screen ones in recent years, the fact is that Law is a stronger actor than he is usually given credit for and he, like Caine, finds away to makes his character seem simultaneously likable and repellent. (As you may know, this marks the second time, after “Alfie,” that Law has appeared in a remake in a role once portrayed by Caine and the film even takes a moment to wittily acknowledge that with an in-joke bit of dialogue.)

As I said, there is no particular reason for this version of “Sleuth” to exist–having thoroughly reinvented the works of Shakespeare in his previous directorial efforts, Kenneth Branagh doesn’t really do anything new here outside of tarting up the material with a bunch of visual tricks and gimmicks–but hell, you could say the same thing for the vast majority of films currently in release. Even though it held no real surprises for me, I was still able to enjoy it simply for the spectacle of watching Caine and Law tearing into each other in the most nastily erudite manner possible. If you are able to simply accept the fact that you are basically watching the cinematic equivalent of a cover version of a familiar song, there are enough pleasures to be had here to make it worth a look..

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16360&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/19/07 14:25:13
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/20/16 Anne Worth a look 4 stars
7/18/13 PAUL SHORTT REDUNDANT, RIDICULOUS REMAKE TO ITS PROMINENT PREDECESSOR 1 stars
10/04/09 mr.mike Doesn't measure up to the original. 3 stars
3/26/09 mariah the concept was cool 4 stars
1/08/09 Tatiana this film was very fascinating. 4 stars
10/22/08 Shaun Wallner Great story! 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  12-Oct-2007 (R)
  DVD: 11-Mar-2008

UK
  N/A

Australia
  06-Mar-2008


Directed by
  Kenneth Branagh

Written by
  Harold Pinter

Cast
  Michael Caine
  Jude Law



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