Toronto International Film Festival: Sleuth
Whether it's Shaffer or Shakespeare, one can always count on twinkle-eyed British boy wonder Kenneth Branagh to direct audacious stage adaptations
The Strand, 20 September 2007
A few years ago, Jude Law was tossing ideas around and thought it might be neat to rewrite 'Sleuth', a famous play-turned-movie by Anthony Shaffer. Soon after, Harold Pinter signed on to write the screenplay. Michael Caine was a natural choice for the part of Andrew Wyke, and Law took on the part of Milo Tindle (played by Caine in the original film). To round out this stellar group, Kenneth Branagh (best known for his Shakespearian adaptations) came on as director. Need I say more at this point? This is a bloody fantastic mixing of minds here.
The story is about two very intelligent, very clever men who battle it out, mind and body, over a woman who never appears on screen. Andrew is a rich detective novelist, and Milo is an out-of-work actor who happens to be sleeping with Andrew's wife. In the first scene, the two men meet for what seems like a casual conversation about the woman they both want to possess. As jealousy and rage take over, however, they become embroiled in an ever-escalating fight of wits and masculine energy. The entirety of the film takes place inside the millionaire's house, which acts as an ominous third character with moving cameras, mood lighting, and interesting architecture. Visually, the film is striking, shot with odd angles, and moments that suddenly become awash with red or green depending on the current psychological state of the characters. The intense string music plays an integral role by amplifying the suspense. And I haven't even mentioned the knockout performances by Caine and Law.
Harold Pinter's script is of the highest caliber: it is precise, dark, understated, and gripping - there would be no film without it. It is a sharp, challenging discourse that would intimidate even the most experienced actor, and yet Caine and Law both give staggering performances - they are both so charismatic they nearly explode off the screen. For Jude Law to work on equal ground with Michael Caine and pull it off so convincingly is quite the feat.
Everything in this film matters: there is not a wasted shot, a wrong expression, or a useless prop in its 94-minute runtime. Sleuth is by far the most stimulating, captivating, and technically brilliant film I have seen at the festival, and with such a masterful cast and crew I would not have expected anything less.