by Theodore JonesAlthough Pinter claims never to have seen the original Sleuth, it is clear that this 2007 remake plays into a complex system of cross-references through which the film defines its adherence to and departure from the classic 1972 model. The most obvious of these is the casting of Michael Caine – the original Milo – who now plays the forever calculating, highly intelligent detective crime writer, Andrew Wyke. Jude Law, doing another Alfie, is cast as the younger, more handsome unemployed artist: Milo Tindle. The film sees the first-time collaboration between screenwriter Pinter, producer Law and director Branagh: one that is at best ostensibly inexperienced and at worst wholly contrived.
The plot is orientated around a battle of the wits – the taking of the older man’s wife by the younger man only represents a superficial first card. Each set of the game is determined by shrewd psychological manoeuvres in which each character attempts to outdo the other. However, brutal physical undertones permeate the unfolding of the action, suggesting a more sinister direction. This dichotomy between the intellect and the physical is the very essence of the Branagh remake. But, by virtue of the Pinter screenplay, it is the overwhelming presence of the physical that determines what is original and novel.
The film has flaws. At times the lines are laboured and utterly unconvincing despite the competence of the actors, whose performances are generally self-assured, even commanding. The physical dualism is often thrown into relief by the presence of the gun – and this serves to rid the plot of a more sophisticated character relation. The brutality of the weapon negates the unspoken compatibility of the actors although in the first two thirds of the film, this does help to emphasise the intellectual battle that is being fought.
Ultimately, the only way the struggle can progress is by one character drawing the other into his confidence. Sure enough, Caine proposes that the two characters live together, assuming a compatibility that has been suggested but seems utterly absurd given the context. Law sidles up to Caine and asks to see his bedroom where the bed, he is sure, is bigger. When they reach the bedroom both lie on the bed and the game is at once as complex as it has ever been, each manoeuvre painfully slow. But we know the stalemate cannot last: Law jumps up from the bed and as he does so breaks the spell. The character refuses to be taken into Caine’s confidence, and since he has manoeuvred Caine into a false sense of trust, he is in the undeniable position of supremacy.
The best thing about Sleuth is the standard of acting, which brings out the sinister chords of the Pinter script and its broad dramatic rhythms beautifully. Caine is coldly calculating, Law is visceral and energetic. Definitely one to watch.