A High-Tech Remake
New "Sleuth" is Sexier Than '72 Original
Asbury Park Press, 2 November 2007
At just 86 minutes, the new updated version of "Sleuth" still feels dense and rich.
Michael Caine flips his role from the original film version, released in 1972, so that he is now Andrew Wyke, the rich and arrogant English writer whose wife has run off with a roguish young actor, Milo Tindle.
Jude Law is the rogue Milo, so this "Sleuth" is considerably sexier than the first film, co-starring Laurence Olivier. Now you have two sensual actors vying for the acting honors and for one woman's affection. Caine portrayed the younger man on the make in the original.
The first movie, based on the play by Anthony Shaffer and directed by the estimable Joseph L. Mankiewicz ("All About Eve"), represented two levels of competition: between the characters — one aging, one in his prime, and between two generations and styles of acting: Olivier, the legendary classics actor who had headed the National Theatre, and Caine, a Cockney born Micklewhite who had served in the British Army and was a tough, charming performer.
Shaffer's play, adapted for this movie by playwright Harold Pinter, has been high-teched up by director Kenneth Branagh, an actor himself and a lover of acting tours de force.
Caine's Andrew has it all: gorgeous property in the English countrywide, fabulous old manor home, every gadget and device known to techies, plus all the clothing, wine, food and playthings that a man could want — except a partner.
By the looks of his departed wife's vast closets, he once had a chic, slim and pampered spouse.
Branagh shows us that you can use high-tech materialism to imaginative effect. In Andrew's spotless, antiseptic home, everything is tucked away, concealed for use only when Andrew pushes a button. Cameras survey every move made on or near his property. His wife's closet speaks volumes: Each item is stacked and hung in categories of color, use and season. It's a museum, not a living person's storage area.
He invites Milo, an actor living with his wife, to get a look at the lad and to set him up in a mock shooting drama that will either (1) scare Milo out of his wife's life or (2) embarrass him to death.
Andrew convinces Milo that they can stage a phony jewelry robbery. Andrew will be able to fence the jewelry, and Milo can collect the insurance money. In fact, it's a ruse to test Milo.
For about two thirds of the movie's slim running time, Caine and Law go at it full throttle: teasing, insulting, mocking, bonding, drinking, smoking, weeping, and then comes the shooting drama, which is followed by the arrival of a plump, fussy investigator, looking into the disappearance of Milo. Andrew's stunned.
It is certainly no surprise that Caine can cover a wide emotional landscape in the snap of a finger and not muss a hair or wrinkle his jacket. So we're ready for another seamless performance from him, and we get it.
But Law, casually assumed to be just a pretty boy with a talent to out-handsome everybody else, can act. He's very good as Milo. The subtle job Law does is to make Milo seem one-dimensional but in a multidimensional way. In other words, we assume that Andrew will steamroll over Milo, no contest. Wrong.
"Sleuth" 2007 is very welcome indeed.