Local opening date: November 30, 2007
Reviewed by Martha K. Baker
Yes, that Sleuth, the play by
Anthony Shaffer, the 1972 movie originally starring Michael Caine and Lawrence
Olivier. That one. Well, this one's got Michael Caine, too, but in the role as
the older writer, with Jude Law taking the part of the younger actor "" a
theatrical trick among many.
Shaffer wrote a near classic plot. Two men wage a battle of wits and words, a 90-minute sublimation for phallomachy. Andrew Wyke, a writer of detective novels,f has lost his expensive wife Maggie to the actor, Milo Tindle, currently employed as a chauffeur. The two meet, at Wyke's invitation, to discuss the divorce that he won't give Maggie. Wyke estimates that Tindle is a lightweight and proceeds to play cat to his mouse, a humiliating game. He underestimates Tindle, however, which brings us to Acts II and III. The fun is watching the two men with the rapier wits, never quite knowing who's firing blanks, pun intended. They do not, cannot trust each other.
Caine as Wyke is suave and sophisticated, a bit tubby in his plush robe or silk suit. Law as Tindle is all sinew and testosterone with a streak of cowardice, matched only by Wyke's own.
The two actors seem to be on stage for the first Act, never relaxing into the roles, but by Act II, they seem to have figured out how to make life look like art and vice versa. Of course, the problem in Act I could be with the writing, as Harold Pinter took over the screenplay from Shaffer. Pinter, also the writer of plays such as The Birthday Party, appears on the television screen at one point, another in joke.
Television screens play a role in this remake in a way they couldn't 35 years ago. The newer version exploits the e-home, that is the home that is controlled by remotes and surveilled by cameras that are as liable to show old movies based on an old man's books as they are to show what's out the front door. The warm library setting of the earlier movie has been supplanted by modern lines, a Tadeo Ando concreteness to the architecture. In this version, the remote becomes not just electronic but metaphorical for these men's approach to life.
Joseph Mankieweiz directed the 1972 film, but Kenneth Branagh, the Irish-born actor and director, directed this version, and it shows. Instead of modernizing his direction, Branagh has returned to the avant-garde style of filmmaking. He plays with color, with reflections, with shadows. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but you don't go to a remake just to check out whodunit. You go for a bit of sleuthing of your own, and in that goal, Sleuth delivers. Still, it makes you want to rent the original - just to see another's vision.
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