Directed by critically-acclaimed director Kenneth Branagh, Jude Law and two-time Oscar-winner Michael Caine (1987, Best Supporting Actor, Hannah and Her Sisters; 2000, Best Supporting Actor, Cider House Rules) join forces in this sharp-witted, modern adaptation of the 1972 classic, Sleuth. Locked in a high-tech English manor, bound in a deadly duel of wits, Andrew Wyke (Caine) and Milo Tindle (Law) come together as English gentlemen to discuss the matter of Wyke's wife: the woman both are sleeping with. But as wit becomes wicked and clever becomes cutthroat, Wyke and Tindle's game of one-upmanship spirals out of control, in an escalating chess match that can have only one outcome: murder.
Thirty-five years after Michael Caine played the role of crass boy-toy Milo Tindle in Joseph L. Mankiewiczs screen adaptation of Anthony Shaffers hit play Sleuth, the actor takes over his 1972 co-star Laurence Oliviers role of rich cuckold Andrew Wyke in Kenneth Branaghs updated remake of the same story. Where Olivier brought a seething, upper-class disgust to mystery-novelist Wykes attitude toward Tindle--who is having an affair with the formers wife and has come to the writers mansion to request that Wyke divorce her--Caine basks in the comic absurdity of a superficial man like Tindle (Jude Law) led by the nose into one or another illusion of happiness. The new films script by Harold Pinter has the arid air of expectation familiar to his work, the weight of things not said whenever someone speaks. Thats a considerable weight indeed, in Sleuths story of a psychological contest between two very different men who despise one another beneath outward civility.
The story finds Tindle arriving at Wykes home. Following various small humiliations, he is invited by the older man to steal his wifes jewels in a scheme that benefits everyone. Theres more than meets the eye to Wykes proposal, however, leading to unexpected developments and surprises in the films second half. Branaghs direction is suitably cool and sleek in the beginning, when the characters emotions are still in check and the oddness of Wykes gadget-filled world is still entertaining to behold. (The films set design is one of its strongest elements.) But once voices rise and threats appear and the like, Branagh cant seem to penetrate the surface of things. Unlike Mankiewiczs take, the new version is caught up in the insularity of the characters tit-for-tat gamesmanship, lacking the intriguing, class-warfare subtext of the earlier work. A gay angle thrown into the last half-hour sits uncomfortably and irrelevantly with the rest of the material. The best thing about this Sleuth are the performances of Law and Caine, who could have been even better with a great script. --Tom Keogh
Stills from Sleuth (click for larger image)