Film Review: "Sleuth"

Liverpool Daily Post, 23 November 2007
By Philip Key

Yet another remake! Yes, but this is one well worth it, not so much a remake of the 1972 film as a new interpretation.

Michael Caine was in that earlier version playing young hairdresser Milo Tindle, but swaps roles for this outing to play Tindle's adversary, wealthy thriller writer Andrew Wyke.

Into his old role comes Jude Law and the verbal fireworks between the two is a joy to behold.

That is largely thanks to a new script by Harold Pinter, albeit based on the original by the late Liverpool-born playwright Anthony Shaffer (the man who also wrote film scripts for The Wicker Man and Hitchcock's Frenzy).

The result is very much a Pinter film complete with those pregnant pauses, some very smart, witty dialogue full of dry humour and a lot of sophistication.

Kenneth Branagh directs in much the same style, setting the action in one of those impossibly modern houses full of sliding walls, secret cameras, push-button technology and ultra-chic furnishings.

The twisting plot is also much the same as before, with some subtractions and additions, while retaining its central "surprise", one that many people will know, like the identity of the murderer in "The Mousetrap", but which is still deftly handled.

Milo Tindle has come to Wyke's house to ask him to divorce the wife whom Tindle is having an affair with. Wyke is initially unwilling to discuss the subject, preferring to take Tindle on a tour of his house and show him his lifestyle (including the wife's impressive wardrobe of clothes).

Eventually he comes up with a plan. Tindle should break into the house and steal his wife's jewels, leaving Wyke to claim the insurance and Tindle to sell the gems, to allow him to keep the wife in her accustomed manner.

Despite being appalled by the idea, Tindle finally agrees and sets the whole twisted plot into action.

The film offers a masterclass in acting from the two principals, Caine beautifully cast as the scheming novelist Wyke (all smarmy charm) and Law surprisingly effective as the poor-but-honest lover who can still match Wyke with bon mot for bon mot.

The third cast member - a cameo from Alec Cawthorne - contributes to the film's "surprise" quite effectively.

With such a tiny cast, Branagh as director keeps the attention focused, using a prowling camera that examines the furniture as much as the faces of Caine and Law: he knows when to go for the ultra close-up (Caine handles such camera searching with aplomb) and when to place his actors in a certain setting.

This is a film which will not appeal to everyone.

It is highly sophisticated stuff, relying as much on the verbal sparring as the corkscrew twisting plot, and Pinter's very dry humour can be an acquired taste.

Personally, I find such humour very appealing, as with the opening shot when Tindle arrives along a long drive and parks his car at the front door alongside another vehicle.

"Is that your car?" Wyke asks rather pointlessly, and, having been assured it is, adds: "Mine is bigger than yours."

At 86 minutes, the new "Sleuth" is much shorter than the original but is long enough and, as such, quite a little gem.

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