DVD Review: Sleuth
By Frankie Dees Mar 10, 2008, 13:15 GMT
On his sprawling country estate, an aging writer (Caine) matches wits with the struggling actor (Law) who has stolen his wife\'s heart. ...more
More a re-imagining or transformation than a remake, ‘Sleuth’ draws its name and gimmick from Anthony Shaffer’s stage play and subsequent 72’ film but uses Nobel Laureate playwright Harold Pinter’s screenplay to take the material in a bizarre and less-effective direction.
With a script written by a playwright (who is considered by many to be one of our greatest), direction from Kenneth Branagh (who did a great job on adapting a number of other works from a famous playwright with ‘Henry V’, ‘Hamlet’) and starring two actors who are known to be the best of their generation – Michael Caine and Jude Law – with Caine now occupying the role that Laurence Olivier filled in the original, himself in the role that Jude Law has taken over. With all that, one would expect a flick a little less stolid.
The first half generates a fair amount of tension but the lighting and production design gives the film a sleek, metallic, unattractive sheen that unintentionally makes the film hard to watch. The manor of mystery that the film exclusively takes place in belongs to aging mystery novelist Andrew Wyke (Caine) whose interior design schemes are achingly minimalist with nothing but silvers and blues - soul-sucking colors – to reflect off the actors faces.
Wyke gets a late-night visitor who happens to be the young actor Milo Tindle (Law) – lover of Wyke’s wife – whose visit is in the interest of getting Wyke to sign the divorce papers. With a HItchcockian twist, Wyke manages to persuade Tindle into staging a break-in into his manor and stealing some jewels that Wyke can cash an insurance claim on and Tindle can sell overseas.
Anything beyond this point remains spoiler territory but needless to say, a spider web of ‘games’ is played and for those of you unfamiliar with Schaffer’s work, there are more than a few double crosses. This flick clocks in at almost 40 minutes shorter than the 72’ film with much of the dialogue being streamlined and minimalized much like the interior design.
Pinter’s strong dialogue is unmistakable, with a new homoerotic subtext, that’s intriguing as it is muddled. The simplicity and fun of the original is now gone and replaced by Pinter’s need to make this material weightier than it needs to be. A dubious choice for a reimagining anyway, this heavy-handed approach was ill-conceived – I think Caine and Law could have really dug their teeth in had the script been a bit lighter.
That being said, Caine is always reliable and his involvement in this pic provides a justified curiosity for fans of the original. Law on the other hand seems slightly out-matched, particularly in the latter half of the pic.
Despite neither actors being much for the theatrical stage, Caine’s an old pro whose talent can match whatever’s thrown at him while Law never quite gets a handle on the dialogue – what’s essentially a play on-screen.
The film is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with a few special features that includes commentaries from Director Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine and Jude Law, a Making-Of, and a short Make-up f/x featurette.
There’s some tension and good twists here and the script is certainly strong in parts with Caine offering up his usually strong performance but the flick is also hard to watch in places and will no doubt lose most casual viewers half-way through. A curio recommend for fans of Pinter, Caine and the original stageplay, all others can proceed with caution.