Jude Law's "Sleuth" Pulling Power
FemaleFirst, 24 November 2007
Jude Law has come a long way in the last decade. Back in 1997 he came to the world's attention in his first high profile role as Oscar Wilde's selfish lover Bosie opposite Stephen Fry in 'Wilde'. Ten years later and the 34-year-old finds himself with the clout not only to get a film made, but to rope in the all-star trio of Sir Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh and Nobel prize-winning playwright Sir Harold Pinter to make it happen.
While muddling through a series of idle thoughts during some downtime five years ago Jude indulged in a bit of a fantasy mix-and-match session. A huge fan of Pinter's work and an admirer of both the 1972 film 'Sleuth' and the play from which it was adapted (both written by the late Anthony Shaffer), Law decided the bare bones of the story would be dynamite in Pinter's hands.
The plot is essentially a dual of two egos, one belonging to a rich and successful, ageing writer, and the other a young upstart Italian hairdresser who has been bedding the elder man's wife.
The much-lauded original starred late stage-and-screen-legend Sir Laurence Olivier as author Andrew Wyke and Caine, then aged 39, as his rival Milo Tindle.
Not content with the challenge of roping the greatest living playwright into penning what would become his first film script in ten years, the ambitious Hollywood star also decided there was only one man who could step into Olivier's shoes - step forward Sir Michael Caine, 35-years wiser, two Oscars better off (Both for Best Actor in a Supporting Role - for 'Hannah and Her Sisters' in 1987 and 'The Quiet American' in 2002) and now a Knight of the Realm after being awarded a CBE by the Queen in 2000.
Caine recalls: "We were at dinner one night and Jude said, 'I'm thinking of asking Harold Pinter to rewrite 'Sleuth' ' and I told him, 'Well I'd be interested, but I wouldn't be interested in redoing the one that we did, because I think we did a pretty damn good job of it back then.'
"But Pinter completely rewrote it. I wouldn't have done it otherwise.
"The original was done by Anthony Shaffer, and I didn't think we could improve very much on that but it was totally changed by Pinter, and I was delighted to do it. There are barely any lines in the new movie which were in the old movie. Maybe two lines which are the same, which is remarkable.
"Pinter just took it and went completely his own way with the psychology of it all."
Elaborating on Pinter's take on the famous generational battle, he says: "The thing in this film is there is a homoerotic subtext; in the earlier one, there was a massive class thing between the two men. So he's gone a completely different way and it's fascinating.
"I played Wyke as a lonely man who might want a companion and to hell with the missus."
With Caine stepping into the illustrious shoes of his late co-star to play Wyke, Law decided to saddle himself with the daunting task of living up to Caine's inimitable performance as Tindle.
Last but not least, completing a quartet of hugely-respected British talent, Kenneth Branagh came on board to direct.
Law was understandably humbled at being able to collect together such a titled, award-winning, widely-revered bunch.
He gushes: "I just think as a country we should be proud to have three such wonderfully talented men all working in the film industry. And they are all so great to work with. Great company, incredibly funny, and clever. There was a wonderful working dynamic."
For his part, Branagh found himself paralysed with awe at the thought of working with Pinter.
He says: "When a man walks into a room with a Nobel prize for literature and you think, 'Ooh, he's in the same group as Picasso, and Einstein', you really have to be on top of your game to explain what you might like to have changed, or reconsidered."
And he wasn't the only one. When the 46-year-old director asked Pinter to visit the set, even Caine was a nervous wreck.
Branagh recalls: "After about five minutes I noticed that both Jude and Michael were physically shaking. Not long afterwards, Michael suddenly broke away from the dialogue and said, in that much imitated way that only he could, and laughing slightly hysterically, 'Can we stop for two minutes so I can have a glass of water? I haven't been this f***ing nervous since I did live television'."
It is unsurprising Law and Caine were daunted - they are the only actors in what is a very dialogue-heavy film. But they needn't have worried; both put in powerful performances. Caine embodies the possessive jealousy of Wyke with what Branagh describes as "a raw and menacing power", while Law was made for the part of his sexually provocative young rival.
Branagh gets to the crux of why the two men made a success of their roles: "Michael Caine has a great feel for Harold Pinter's dialogue. He makes it funny, he makes it threatening. I think he's always, always very real and he carries that great movie star charisma, as does Jude, in a way that just continues to surprise me. Over the 90 minutes of the film, the twists and turns as embodied by those two are really striking."
Surprisingly, what lets the film down is the self-consciousness of the script and the very nature of the film's scenario, which Branagh fails to translate onto the scene. Although undoubtedly clever, biting and witty, the 2007 incarnation of 'Sleuth' comes across as exactly what it is - a play that has been shoehorned into a movie theatre. Theatrical devices such as characters appearing in disguise and dialogue-heavy exchanges which work on stage become tiresome, irritating and hard to believe on screen. Although interesting and thought-provoking, the 2007 incarnation of 'Sleuth', despite the vast talent involved, is flawed.
Regardless of the film's mixed reception however, Branagh, Caine and Law all seem to be satisfied that they achieved exactly what they set out to do.
Caine is just pleased the movie passed his 'Toilet Test'. After perusing the audience at the Venice Film Festival world premiere of 'Sleuth' in August, he expressed himself satisfied that everyone remained too riveted by the film to leave the theatre to relieve themselves.
Braving London's awful November weather for the UK premiere of the film at the Odeon West End the three men were all on fine form, and eager to point out exactly how happy they are with their final product.
Law explains: "I like to have ambitions all the time. It's working with people like this which keeps me going and keeps me interested and this film fulfilled so many of my hopes for this year. It was an absolute joy, it really was.
"I have been incredibly fortunate to get opportunities like this in my career, and I can only hope I continue to be so lucky."
Although 'Sleuth' may not have set the world alight, Law's performance in the film and his intelligent approach to the industry in general is sure to see him involved in such interesting projects for many years to come.
He jokes: "Maybe in thirty-five years or so we'll do a re-make of the re-make with me as Wyke and someone else playing Milo.
"God, it's strange to think that person might not even have been born yet."
If a re-made, re-made 'Sleuth' were to come to fruition, it is a fair bet that Law will by then have joined the pantheon of British acting greats.