TIFF 07: Sleuth
Review: A clever remake featuring strong lead performances
IGN, 10 September 2007
Director Kenneth Branagh's updated retelling of Anthony Shaffer's play "Sleuth", previously filmed in 1972 by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is a clever and well-made thriller that only stumbles during the homestretch. Michael Caine, who starred in the 1972 film, assumes the role played by Laurence Olivier in the original, while Jude Law has been cast in the part previously played by Caine.
This deliciously wicked tale sees mystery novelist Andrew Wyke (Caine) confront Milo Tindle (Law), his estranged wife's lover. A deadly cat-and-mouse game ensues after Andrew makes Milo a sinister proposition whereby both men could profit. Andrew is a cold and calculating man who enjoys flaunting his superior intellect and vast wealth, while Milo is an aspiring actor whose selfishness and greed get the better of him.
Andrew convinces the down-on his-luck Milo to break into his mansion and steal his wife's jewelry so that they can split the insurance payout. That way everyone wins. Andrew, however, is a vengeful old man whose hot-blooded attempt at teaching Milo a lesson stands to brutally backfire on him.
This two-man show features some of the best work Caine and Law have done recently. Both manage to make their characters reprehensible and sympathetic at the same time, as each have very good reasons for seeking revenge. But both Andrew and Milo are, at their core, profoundly damaged souls and this manifests itself in their increasingly twisted and violent behavior.
Unlike so many other play-to-film adaptations, "Sleuth" never feels stagebound. Perhaps that's due to director Branagh's past experience in realizing the plays of William Shakespeare on-screen; he knows how to respect the source material without losing sight of the fact that it needs to be reinterpreted for a visual medium.
After a crackerjack first half, however, "Sleuth" loses its footing after its big plot twist (which we're forbidden from discussing). Things are easier to figure out than the filmmakers may have hoped for and the pacing is off from that point on. These flaws aside, though, "Sleuth" succeeds as a gripping, character-driven thriller.