Sleuth (2007)

Sleuth (2007) (DVD Cover)

Cast: Andrew Wyke (Michael Caine), Milo Tindle (Jude Law)

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Theatrical release: 10/12/2007
DVD Date: 03/11/2008

Rating: R
Running Time: 86 minutes

Note(s): Screenplay adapted from the 1970 stage play Sleuth. The play was also adapted for the 1972 film Sleuth, which starred Laurence Olivier as Andrew Wyke and Michael Caine as Milo Tindle.

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Sleuth (2007)

Review: Whenever one watches a remake of a film, it is important that one tries to judge it on its own merits, not whether it may be better or worse than the original. That's particularly important with this 2007 adaptation of the two act stage play Sleuth, as it is not so much a remake of the 1972 film as it is a new take (a reinterpretation, if you will) on the original material.

To get some casting details out of the way, Michael Caine stars in both films, as the young Milo Tindle in the 1972 film and as the elder Andrew Wyke in this latest version. Jude Law plays Milo here ... and it is the second time that he's taken a role previously played by Caine; in 2004, Law played the titular character in the film Alfie, which was Caine's breakout performance in the 1966 version. Another similarity: both Sleuth and Alfie are adapted from stage plays.

But I digress.

If you haven't seen either the play or the 1972 film, the plotline of Sleuth is brilliant in its simplicity. Bestselling crime novelist Andrew Wyke ("The Master of Menace" as an oversized poster of the author proclaims) invites Milo Tindle to visit him at his remote country estate. Milo is having an affair with Andrew's wife, Maggie, and Andrew wants to come to an arrangement with Milo that will satisfy all parties involved. Andrew's plan involves Milo "stealing" 1 million worth of jewels from the house, fencing them abroad and using the proceeds to live off of. Andrew would get the cash equivalent in a settlement with the insurance company. Though Andrew won't grant Maggie a divorce, if Milo agrees, he won't interfere with her on-going affair with him. Milo does agree, but the plan soon goes awry.

Now, despite what I said earlier about not comparing this version with either the previous stage or film version, I'm going to do just that. Andrew is supposed to be obsessed with games, but there is no evidence of that here. Instead, Andrew is obsessed with technology. He has security cameras everywhere, and a truly amazing remote that controls sliding walls, rotating and flashing spotlights, floating televisions, and more. So the plan he proposes, rather than being an elaborate game to deceive what is sure to be the thorough police and insurance investigation to follow, comes across as merely a sequence of disjointed scenes. (A serious plot flaw also presents itself here; why would Milo agree to participate knowing the house was under constant recorded surveillance?)

The first half of the second "act" of the film is actually much better than the first, its only serious flaw being that it never generates much suspense and comes to its surprise conclusion far too rapidly. But then the film veers off in a completely different direction, adding a third "act", as it were. Whereas the play and 1972 film continue with the gameplay (I know, another comparison), here there's an odd interplay between the two characters that contextually doesn't make much sense. The ending, too, has been changed ... and really not for the better.

Trying to look at the film on its own, I like the minimalist look of it though I was distracted by some of the camera work (scenes viewed through windows or on a monitor from the perspective of a video camera). The performances are good, not great. It is very short at less than 90 minutes, and often feels rushed (third act notwithstanding). And speaking of the third "act", it is completely unnecessary (and rather offensive in both substance and tone), but included no doubt because the screenwriter (Harold Pinter) felt the need to differentiate the film in some material way from its predecessor. On balance, I'd say that if any element of the premise intrigues you in some way, check out the 1972 version rather than this one.


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