Genre: Mystery and Psychological Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.
Release Date: November 23rd, 2007 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Kenneth Branagh Actors: Michael Caine, Jude Law, Harold Pinter, Kenneth Branagh
s evidenced by “Psycho” (1998), “The Manchurian Candidate” (2004), and “All the King’s Men” (2006), remaking absolute masterpieces results in utter disaster. The same holds true for 2007’s “Sleuth,” a refashioning of the original 1972 picture of the same name. Both films are based on the Anthony Schaffer play, but only one was adapted into worthwhile entertainment; this update loses all of the source material’s zest, thrills, unpredictability, and sensibility.
Andrew Wyke (Michael Caine) is a bitter, cunning, and ruthless player of games, who is outraged by the loss of his wife to another man. Ensnared in his plot is that other man, Milo Tindle (Jude Law, assuming the role previously performed by Michael Caine), an equally intelligent and savvy opponent who refuses to lose at anything. Together they will compete in a wickedly devious stratagem of wits, deceit, murder, and temptation – one that will leave both participants considerably, irreparably changed.
The first and second halves of the film could be two completely different movies. The first half closely follows the original film, with exceptionally crafted dialogue and bizarrely unique camera angles that peek through objects, peer between furniture, or observe from odd angles overhead. Plenty of allusions and inside jokes are also hinted at for those who have seen the Joseph L. Mankiewicz version, following along with the fast-paced, clever duel of deception and betrayal.
The second half of the film, however, completely abandons the intensity and biting humor with which the production so eloquently opened. It would be miraculous to top the performances and sneaky build of the 1972 enigma – and so director Kenneth Branagh opts to change things up with his own unguessable deviations on the play. The acting is still top-notch, but the mirthfully twisted tone is recklessly replaced by an edgier, more sinister approach to the cunning brinkmanship. Never has a film dropped into absurdity so rapidly and negligently.
The absorbing notion of approaching familial drama and criminal endeavors like a chess game has all but vanished. The very idea of sleuthing has been removed from Branagh’s catastrophe, cutting out pivotal scenes involving the mocking of the use of a magnifying glass and nods to detective work in general. The overall modernization of individual elements may more easily attract today’s audiences, but it damages the innovation of the presentation and characters. Gone are the creepy puppets and hodgepodge of period collectibles, replaced by a technologically usurped household of electric doors, whirring cameras, gliding elevators, and fancy remote-controlled components. Cursing and slang overtake much of the repartee, making the truly sharp-witted exchanges more difficult to pinpoint. And while the goals and agendas are more or less the same, the execution and the harsher, more vulgar direction crafts an almost unrecognizable retelling of Shaffer’s highly intellectual piece.
Could 2007’s “Sleuth” have been more impressive if the 1972 adaptation didn’t exist? Even without comparisons to previous iterations, it’s difficult to appreciate the ludicrous twist that Branagh has inserted into this remake’s final act. Unexpected, yes, but also unfounded, the strange divergence only struggles in opposition to the personas portrayed. Swift but empty, this contemporary revisitation could have benefited from even further truncation – or perhaps the complete abandonment of Hollywood’s infatuation with remaking cinematic chefs-d’oeuvre.
– The Massie Twins