December 08, 2007


If you just think about
remaking Jaws: The Revenge...

Grade: C –
Starring: Michael Caine and Jude Law
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Perhaps Redux might be a more appropriate – and equally banal – title for the 2007 incarnation of “Sleuth.” This is director Kenneth Branagh’s revision of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1972 prestige act of the same name, itself adapted from Anthony Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning play. Michael Caine, who costarred alongside Laurence Olivier in the 1972 film, assumes Olivier’s part of millionaire mystery novelist Andrew Wyke in Sleuth 2.0, while Jude Law takes on Caine’s erstwhile role of unemployed actor Milo Tindle. And, oh, after 2006’s Alfie, this is the second time Law has reprised a Michael Caine film role.

Moreover, while we always operated on the assumption that Branagh’s directorial career was focused primarily on film adaptations of Shakespeare plays, the larger truth seems to also include his aim to remake as many Olivier-starring vehicles as possible (Henry V, Hamlet, and As You Like It previously). The unfortunate reality is that, outside the realm of the Bard, Branagh has never fully realized the filmmaking potential he flashed sixteen years ago in Dead Again, the underrated, Scott Frank-penned neo-noir.

Even sadder is the fact that all these confluences and coincidences are the most interesting reasons to watch Sleuth. The crux of Shaffer’s original remains intact: the older Milo invites upstart Andrew, who is embroiled in a romantic relationship with Milo’s estranged wife, to his country estate. There, Milo proposes a scheme wherein Andrew would carry out a phony heist of Milo’s priceless jewels; Andrew could keep the gems, and Milo would pocket the insurance proceeds. Milo harbors more diabolical intentions, and suffice it to say that each man engages in a course of humiliations and reprisals against their foil. Any further elucidation would only spoil the plot for any hapless souls who subject themselves to this claptrap.

Nobel laureate playwright Harold Pinter, tabbed with updating the screenplay for modern audiences, amps the venom of the verbal jousting, emphasizes Milo’s Italian heritage, and fleshes out an incongruous homoerotic subtext. However, these pointless exertions still provide us with two unlikable characters struck with chronic logorrhea and confined to a hyper-mod milieu that Branagh infuses with dark blue hues, reflective surfaces, and other visual gewgaws.

The allure of two fine actors engaged in oral tug-of-war may entice some audiences. However, Caine may as well be taping another installment in his “Acting in Film” video series, while Law impersonates a shrill, preening poodle paddling wildly to keep his head above the thespian riptide. Sleuth fails to solve the biggest mystery of all: why this movie was greenlit in the first place.

Neil Morris

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