Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Movie review: Sleuth (2007)


Andrew Wyke is an ageing but successful writer of trashy detective novels whose younger wife has left, shacking up with Milo Tindle, an even younger, handsome actor.  Tindle visits Wyke in attempt to persuade the older man to divorce his errant wife.   Wyke, seemingly in a fit of altruism, suggests a staged robbery of his wifes expensive jewellery.  Milo can keep the jewels and he can claim on the insurance.  Everyone's a winner.  Milo reluctantly agrees and sets in motion a chain of events as the two protagonists indulge in a psychological and dangerous game of cat and mouse.


Sleuth (2007) is actually a re-make of an earlier film from 1972 which _in itself_ was a movie version of an award-winning play written by Anthony Shaffer.  In the 1972 screen version Michael Caine plays Milo, the Jude Law character and it's interesting to see him play the 'other' role of Wyke.  This 2007 version sees the screenplay written by the late great Harold Pinter and based more on the original Shaffer play than the film re-make.  This was to be Pinters last screenplay he wrote before sadly succumbing to cancer in 2008.  Direction is provided by famous actor / lovie Kenneth Branagh.

The plot *is* very Pinteresque with many of the literary signatures that that monicker implies.  Two warring parties, attempting to gain an upper hand, physically and mentally abusing one another, a struggle for territorial dominance.  Pinter and Brannagh have brought it up to date with the inclusion of new technology as plot mechanisms.  For instance, Wyke's obsession with cameras and gadgets replaces those giant mechanical toys in the original.  In fact, to call it a remake is doing the film a disservice as it's almost a complete re-imagining of the story. 

Caine and Law play their respective parts to perfection.  Caine is, well, Michael Caine and a cinematic legend (The Swarm aside).  Thanks to the razor-sharp Pinter dialogue (it should be trademarked), the two characters positively fizz off one another, verbally jousting with arid wit, ferocious put-downs and rapacious anger.  They duck and dive and circle warily, literally and figuratively, jabbing and prodding with capricious banter before launching into full-scale attacks.  Only seconds after they meet and after Milo has parked his small hatchback next to Andrews executive motor, Andrew makes a comment about the size of Milo's car.  "Oh, you've got a small car," he says. "It's not the big one," replies Tindle.  "No, the big one's mine," smirks Wyke.  Ouch.

And they continue.  Wyke constantly refers to Tindle as a hairdresser (he was a hairdresser in the 1972 film) and is constantly being corrected (he's now an actor).  This passing nod being a neat touch while demonstrating Andrews wit and candour.  Milo tells Wyke that he hasn't read of any his books, obviously an insult to a successful author.  Wykes response and in answer to Milo's Italian ancestry is, "They're a funny lot the Italians, Culture isn't really their thing."

It's a very claustrophobic film, with virtually all of the film shot inside the stately house that Wyke inhabits.  Glimpses of the outside are via the security cameras that Wyke has obsessively placed in every conceivable direction.  The house in the 2007 version is in contrast to the kitsch nouveau-rich decoration of that previous, being minimalistic and stark and gadget-laden.  A lift, a focal point of the plot, dominates the set and even this contributes to the claustrophobic air.  Kenneth Brannagh states in an interview the claustrophobia was intentional and he believed the viewer would find fascination in the power of the writing and the performance of the actors.

Polling my wife of her opinion, she described the film as 'absolutely brilliant'.  She thought the actors were superb and the unpredictable nature of the story and plot meant she was gripped.  It was a little hard to get into, she said, but it didn't take long for her to grasp the concept.  She also described it as a 'film lovers film' particularly for those who like something a little different, a little out of the ordinary and I wholeheartedly agree.

With such a small cast (only 4 actors are billed, Pinter being one in his last screen role) and limited set, it's down to the writing, direction and character performances to carry the film.  In that regard, it doesn't disappoint.  Every nuance and exclamation mark of the script is carried off with aplomb by Law and Caine and they provide tour de force performances worthy of the writing. 


Overall, Sleuth (2007) is an exceptional film.  It's fascinating and interesting, has a wickedly unpredictable plot, is written with zeal and vigour and the acting is first-class.  A worthy addition to Caine and Law's curriculum vitae and a fitting tribute to the wonderful Harold Pinter whose work will be missed greatly.

You will like this movie if you like well-written, character-led dramas that are a little different.
You won't like this movie if you think Transformers is too wordy.

Running time: 86 minutes.
Certificate: 15 for strong language
Directed by Kenneth Brannagh

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