Winnipeg Sun, 2 November 2007
There's an old joke that goes something like this: Just as an older gent starts slowly backing his Rolls Royce into a parking space, a young man in a Mini zips into the spot first. "That's what you can do when you're young and fast," says the young man as he exits his car.
Without hesitation, the older man continues backing into the spot, crushing the Mini as he goes.
"And that," says the Rolls' driver, "is what you can do when you're old and rich."
Which brings us, ladies and germs, to "Sleuth", a cat-and-mouse tale about male competition. Michael Caine is old and rich in this movie, and Jude Law is young and fast. The prize they're ostensible fighting over is Caine's wife, although she's never seen. Nobody other than these two actors appears in the film.
Law is the young lover. He comes to Caine's house to tell him that he must give his wife a divorce. Caine, a hugely successful novelist, pretends to go along with that notion, although he cautions Law that the woman they both want has expensive tastes. He talks Law into an illegal scheme, one that will give them all a lot of money. The game is afoot, and it's a dangerous one. The action becomes increasingly sinister, and Law appears to be on the losing end. Can he find a way to get his own back? Indeed he can.
The manipulations multiply.
This version of "Sleuth" is not exactly a remake of the 1972 film, although both are based on the play by Anthony Shaffer. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay for this second go-round, and Kenneth Branagh directs, but the end result is still more like a stage play than a movie.
The work is edgy and in-your-face (and Pinter has ladled on the black humour) and both Caine and Law are at the top of their game. Their performances are everything. In real life, Law's tabloid reputation as a callow philanderer serves the role nicely, and you may be surprised by how good he can be, given the right material.
As for Sir Michael Caine, this performance is a happy reminder of his brilliance. He fuels the action and the mood, which spins around from covetous and murderous through to fraternal, conciliatory and even seductive. You'll love watching this thing.
Or maybe you won't. Although the first half is much better than the second, "Sleuth" is intense, wordy, wordly and thought-provoking overall. It may not appeal to adolescent boys. Imagine that.