In 1972, two of the world’s great actors teamed up for a dramatic face-off that would be looked upon as a career highlight for both. In 2007, another team was paired off, and they took another look at the material, updating it and trying to keep it relevant.
The original film, written by Anthony Schaffer, and based on his Tony Award winning play, is an excellent movie and, for me at least, belongs as part of the triumvirate of great murder mysteries, alongside ‘The Last of Shelia,’ and ‘Deathtrap.’ The characters seem to always be one step ahead of the audience.
The plot is simple. Andrew Wyke, a world-famous mystery writer, played by Sir Laurence Olivier, invites Milo Trindle, a rather unsuccessful hair dresser to his house. Once he arrives, Wkye reveals that he knows that Trindle is having an affair with his wife. Since his wife is a woman of great needs and Milo won’t be able to provide them, Andrew offers him a deal. He’s not upset about Milo stealing his wife. But if he’s steal some valuable jewels from him, Andrew would be greatly appreciative. He’ll get the insurance money and Milo can sell the jewels to live with Andrew’s wife happily ever after. Andrew suggests that Milo go through the actual theft, so the evidence corroborates Andrew’s cry of theft. Milo agrees and then the story takes numerous twists and turns that would really suck if I mentioned any of them here.
In 2007, director Kenneth Branagh teamed up with writer Harold Pinter, Jude Law and Michael Caine, (now playing the Olivier role,) to offer another take on the story. The team, made up of four of the best known talents of British stage and screen, didn’t refer to the film as a remake, but more of a different take of the story. Pinter had not seen the play or the film, and had only read the play. What they ended up with was a product that felt like a stage play and was almost exactly like the original except for the very end and a clown suit. (‘Hey, can you tell me more about this clown suit,’ I hear you asking. No, I really can’t.)
The film is stark, bleak and tense, with the language and plotting updated to make the story current. It is still an exciting and suspenseful movie. What’s amazing is that for the vast majority of the running time of the movie, only Law and Caine are on the screen. It is the talent that they bring to the characters, and the skill that Branagh brings to the direction and Pinter brings to the script that makes the film an exciting remake. (The hell with the idea that this isn’t a remake. The characters names are the same and the plot is almost identical… It’s a remake.) While it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of the original, the new ‘Sleuth’ offers an exciting and inventive take on the material.
It may not be for everyone. Two actors, face to face is a lot to ask of an audience. (It feels like a filmed stage play at times.) Some have said that they felt trapped, or a feeling of claustrophobia watching the movie. While I hate to tell a viewer what to feel, I think that was kind of the point. The fireworks in this movie is the dialogue and it is excellent. (If you don’t think two guys talking about banging Michael Caine’s wife for 90 minutes is exciting, well, this may not be for you.) (This may also not be for you if you don’t buy into the theory that Jude Law is the next in line for wonderful British actors. I’m not sure I agree or disagree, so, I’m waiting more evidence. If ‘Sleuth’ is any example, he needs some work. Caine kinda wipes the floor with him in some scenes.)
While the new ‘Sleuth’ doesn’t hold a candle to the talent involved in the original film, this is a solid remake, one that seems to buck the standard rule that remakes of good movies must be god awful. –Sam