'Sleuth' and 'Michael Clayton': Separating the Men from the Boys in Venice
International Herald Tribune, 31 August 2007
The distinguished team responsible for the new "Sleuth" is justified in emphasizing that this is no ordinary remake. Harold Pinter has completely rewritten Anthony Shaffer's original play (rather than his 1972 screenplay), keeping the outlines of this ingenious drama, but gutting it as comprehensively as the new location - still an English country house on the outside, but its interior transformed into a hypermodern space of glass, stone and steel, equipped with all the latest electronic gadgets and surveillance devices (this setting is the result of one of the few minimalist directions in Pinter's screenplay).
Michael Caine plays Andrew Wyke, the wealthy writer who inhabits this high-tech rustic retreat but, whereas in the original he was the author of old-fashioned country-house murder mysteries, he is now a self-made millionaire producer of blockbuster crime thrillers. Jude Law is in the role of Milo Tindle, the struggling young actor (a more timeless figure, perhaps), who has shacked up with Wyke's wife and comes to ask him to do the decent thing - and give her a divorce. Jude Law is not only the other main protagonist (played by Caine in the first version of the film, opposite Lawrence Olivier), but the co-producer, who over several years put this project together and recruited Kenneth Branagh as the ideal man to direct it.
The reworking of the play is not just an adept transformation of theater to film (to which cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos has made a major contribution), but also casts a revealing light on social history, reflecting the enormous changes in English society, language and morals in the nearly 40 years since the play first appeared on the London stage.
The first celluloid "Sleuth" was filmed over 16 weeks, but this version took 4, and the increase in pace is palpable. At the same time, Pinter has punctuated the action with his famous pregnant pauses, often to great comic effect.
Shaffer's Wyke was an eccentric upper-class player of elaborate games. Pinter's and Caine's Wyke is a much more volatile, dangerous customer, his Cockney charm, laced with a kind of habitual sarcasm exploding into violence at a moment's notice. Jude Law's Tindle, too, reveals under pressure hidden reserves of rage and murderous intent. Having locked antlers, Wyke and Tindle become so absorbed in their struggle they seem entirely to forget the object of their contention, Wyke's wife. The original, more restrained, battle of wills and wits between Wyke and his rival has now become a much more edgy, psychological and physical contest. Even those who can remember the original play and film will find this new interpretation a gripping experience.
[snip - see article link for "Michael Clayton" review]