Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

The question, as I sat down to watch this DVD of the reimaging of Anthony Schafer’s play ‘Sleuth’, is can a director, Kenneth Branaugh, who is probably as accomplished at directing dialog heavy play adaptations as well as probably anyone ever, direct a pair of actors in Michael Caine and Jude Law, each arguably among the best of their respective generations, through a movie penned by Harold Pinter, who has a freaking Nobel Prize for love of God, that simply features these two sparring back forth for ninety or so minutes? Before actually watching the movie one would have to think that the answer to this question would be a resound ‘hell to the yes’. After watching ‘Sleuth’, the answer, at least to me, is a disappointing ‘no’.

Andrew Wyke (Caine) is not a happy man at the present. The wealthy and popular crime novelist has a wife Maggie who is being unfaithful to him and he is about to receive her lover at his palatial, high tech but starkly cold estate who will no doubt request a divorce. When Milo Tindall (Law) show up, after a few rudimentary barbs such as Andrew mentioning how ‘small’ Milo’s car is in comparison to his and calling him a hairdresser a number of times, Milo requests this divorce which Andrew is in no hurry to grant his adultering wife.

Through some rather clever and inspired word play, Andrew makes Milo an offer. Though Milo claims to have never read any of Andrew’s novels, it might have served him well to have read ‘Rat in a Trap’, one of Wyke’s more popular novels, which may have helped in the current situation that he’s about to find himself in. Regardless Andrew makes Milo and offer, and despite the fact Milo knows in his heart of hearts that it’s a sucker bet, greed gets the better of him and the next thing you know Milo is looking down the barrel of a gun.

The game has only begun however as chicanery, deception, sleight of hand and Tom Foolery, whoever the hell he is, is the order of the day as the story takes more turns and surprising twists than you can shake a stick at.

I saw the original ‘Sleuth’ with Michael Caine as Tindall and Sir Lawrence Olivier as Wyke on late night television one day with my mom when I was ten years old. Being that that was thirty years ago I hardly remember the film and even if I did remember it, it would be as a ten year old remembers things. For instance a ten year old in 1978 is far more interested in waiting like hell all summer to see if ‘The Fonze’ made that death defying jump or not, as opposed to watching two British dudes verbally spar for over two hours. My point in that is that the original film plays no never mind in how I see this reimagining, though I will make it a point to revisit the first film in short order.

As this film first began to reveal itself it was unfolding exactly as I hoped it would. The dialog was crisp and filled with electricity, Branagh’s direction was as tight as a drum and Caine and Law were completely within these characters that they have created. You didn’t feel that you were watching Michael Caine and Jude Law acting, but you were watching Andrew Wyke and Milo Tindall going at each other. After the first act came to a close, in spectacular fashion I might add, I’m sitting in front of the tele wondering how in the hell are they going to fill another hours worth of film equal to that superlative first act. In my opinion they didn’t.

As we are introduced to the police detective investigating the disappearance of Milo Tindall I found it difficult to buy into the fact that Andrew Wyke wasn’t aware what was going on before him, especially considering that I knew what was going on and Andrew Wyke, one would imagine, is way more intelligent and clever than I am. With that illusion subsequently shattered the rest of the movie to come seems to fall apart in succession around it like a string of dominoes. What had started out as crisp dialog soon devolves into screaming histrionics. What started out as clever plotting eventually becomes unbelievable over plotting. Worse still, what were initially smooth and controlled electric performances, suddenly transforms into gregarious over acting, particularly from Mr. Law. And I can’t even begin to understand where the sudden, completely unexpected and totally out of place homosexual overtones were suppose to take us. I like a twist as much as the next guy but I don’t know if I’d be to inclined to make some guy my lover after he just choked me with necklace, punched me in the gut and put a loaded gun to my head. But then that’s just me.

If they had chose to close the curtains on this new filmed version of ‘Sleuth’ after the first act then this, in my opinion, would probably be like the best short film ever made. As it stands, it seems that this movie needed to have somebody involved in its production with absolutely no talent that conceivably could have brought this incredibly promising tale back to earth for normal humans to understand and enjoy.

Real Time Web