‘Sleuth’ (2007) [review]


I’ve finally gotten around to writing a review for this lovely, critically ‘under praised’ film. Yes, I do mean the remake, and not the loved 1972 version.

First, I’d like to say that Kenneth Branagh is a very compelling director. By comparing the Mankiewicz version of Sleuth to this one, you see many differences in ideas. For one, I’d say Branagh’s vision was more ‘surreal’ as opposed to Mankiewicz’s vision, which was perhaps very real. Both version I love, mind you. In fact, I prefer the original to the remake. Another key thing about Branagh’s vision – his wit. Some may say that there’s no wit to be found in the film, but I disagree completely. He paced the film so fluidly that it was overwhelming. This could be a pro or a con to some, but to me it was definitely a pro. The eighty-six minute running time flew by fast. Faster than any film I’ve ever seen. Though I haven’t seen much of his work, I’d call this some of his more courageous to date. He took a shot at creating a different version of the beloved Sleuth. To some did it successfully. To others, as you can tell by the critics’ reactions, he did it very poorly.

The adaptation of the play by Harold Pinter was wonderful. Unlike the ’72 version, there is a lot of comedy to be found throughout the film. Some unexpected humor, some over-the-top humor, and some really crude humor. Overall, the hilarty works on so many levels. From the intellectual ‘heh’ to the gut busting ‘hahaha’, Pinter’s script is very enjoyable. With Harold’s great writing comes wonderful dialog. Pinter’s snappy dialog creates fantastic animosity between Milo and Andrew (also thanks to the wonderful acting). With quick and effective scenes, comes no time for boredom. Thankfully, the film never borders tediousness and keeps the enjoyment of the film at a constant high. In my eyes, Mr. Pinter adapted from the play perfectly, containing both large amounts of pulsating tension and fair amounts of calming, intriguing dialog. The characters are about as complex as a table. This is what makes the film so eerie. We know the reason why Andrew wants to play these games with Milo, and why Milo agrees to play them. The twists and turns that ensue are absolutely staggering. Who knew such obvious characters could be so devious and devilish? Pinter captures the characters very well in this way. But it is the actors that capture the screenplay perfectly. I had absolutely no problem with the other version’s length (138 Minutes), but this film seemed too short. To me, it felt as if it were the length of a television show. My only wish for the film was that it lasted much longer than it did.

Don’t let the critics fool you with faux hatred. If you loved the original, you may be bias in finding this film to be worthy of having the same greatness of the original. Please, do not go into this film with that mindset. Branagh’s version of the play is not a remake, and the only reason I compared the two in the previous thoughts on the writing and directing is because many people want to know comparisons.

The acting from the two men was excellent. Caine and Law show different sides of themselves. Caine, taking on the opposing role in Sleuth that he did in 1972’s version. Law, taking on Caine’s role. The chemistry between the two was exhilarating. Definitely worthy of being proclaimed ‘the best duo on screen this year’. Or at the very least, top three. I do not know who to start off with because they were both so equally good. I’ll just do it in alphabetical order.

Michael Caine plays “Andrew Wyke“, an acclaimed novelist with a wife that Milo loves and vise versa. As we all know, Caine is one of the masters of acting. This job shouldn’t of taken much effort from him to do well. As it seems, Caine did try very hard to create the monster that is Andrew Wyke. Caine makes Wyke’s subtle suffering, his arrogant conversing and his wit, his own. Caine is relentless with his outpour of humiliating chores; really containing the essence that beholds his character. For the entirety of the film, Caine’s range is impeccable. From being a depressed, overwhelmed man in angst, to a man who enjoys condescension, he does it all. He captures the sadist beauty in the tormented scribe to a tee. Some of Caine’s most accomplished work to date… and that’s saying a lot.

Onto Jude Law, who’s playing his second Caine role in three years as “Milo Tindle“. Tindle is a hairdresser – I mean actor, who’s works are mainly composed of murderers. Alike Caine, he goes through emotions like a teenage girl. Whipping through being distrot, overjoyed, depressed and yes, even ‘frisky’, he shows range unlike he ever has before. He contorts the role into such a character that you cannot recognize it’s an actual person, any longer. Whether this is a benefit or not, you decide. Either way, it certainly adds an extra few layers to one of the most intriguing characters of all time. Unlike Caine’s take on Tindle in ’72, which was subtle and calming, Law goes well over the top with his portrayal of the character. This coincides with Branagh’s vision perfectly. By doing this, Law helps create a surreal feel to an already surreal film with hints of realism. Believe it or not, though some of what Law does may seem inaccurate to many, I find his reactions to many scenarios to be amusingly realistic, in some way. Though many may not react to these situations in anyway Law does at all. I find that under the amount of stress that Tindle endures, Law’s variety of actions are somewhat realistic. By the end, Law sculpts his depiction of Milo Tindle into a human being. With everything that preceded the ending, that is quite the feat. This shows that once again, Law is one of the most admirable actors of this generation.

The technical aspects are something that a lot of technical people will go crazy over.

The film editing was marvelous. Not a slow beat to throw the film off rhythm. In making a short version of the accomplished play, I find that it didn’t skip anything important. In my eyes, that is quite the achievement. A lot of the quick, edgy scenes are just long enough to receive the full benefit of them. Some short scenes are cut off just before they got too imperative towards the judgment of the entirety. Overall, the editing was miraculous, and some of the finest of the year.

The art direction was quite interesting. In the 1972 version of Sleuth, we saw some of the most intriguing eye candy of all time. With fanatical toy rooms to luxurious, palace-esque lounging rooms, it had it all. This film, unfortunately does not, which is okay. Who could expect this version to compete with that of the ’72’s? Well, Branagh found a way without having to mimic it. He followed through on his creative vision here; by creating an almost futuristic mansion. Many rooms were simply beautiful, without having to put too much effort. Some rooms were empty, but seemed almost wonderful, in that they were so unique. All in all, the housing complex was great. With not a lot to work with, the decoration team really pulled through here.

The cinematography was fabulous. Haris Zambarloukos is having quite an amazing year. With Death Defying Acts and this under his belt, I believe he will receive a nomination someday. He creates such a malignant atmosphere that not only foreshadows the impending events, but adds intensity to the plot. Some of his shots transcend the book of cinematography, in that his vision was flat out avant-garde. Although his work wasn’t ‘revolutionary’, it does help add another chapter to that book – allowing the new age photographer to create a one-dimensional atmosphere with immense depth. Yes, a contradiction, but definitely accurate in this situation.

Onto the score by Patrick Doyle. If you’ve seen the 1972 film, this score is fairly similar to it. Just imagine it with an updated melody, and you’ve got it in a nutshell. In my eyes, while the previous score was better, this score is still excellent. His composition uses violins in a pulsating way that not only thickens the plot, but also doesn’t get tiresome; like most other scores. Along with this, the violins are also used in a very soothing way; summing up the plot in an extremely condensed, but accurate way. One of the most well rounded scores of the year, and definitely one of the best.

Nominations for Sleuth
Best Adapted Screenplay – Harold Pinter (#4)
Best Film Editing – (#3)
Best Original Score – Patrick Doyle (#4)

Top Tens
Best Picture
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Michael Caine
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Jude Law
Best Director – Kenneth Branagh

Overall : 8.5/10. On a rewatch, the film may make my Best Picture lineup. It’s been growing on me for a few months now, and I have a large urge to watch the film again.


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