Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sleuth: a puzzling title

Sleuth, as I stated above, is a puzzling title for this film. I was expecting a murder mystery or at least some sort of detective story, but that's definitely not what I got. Perhaps the viewer is supposed to be the sleuth. This is, essentially, a two-person play with Michael Caine playing the role of Andrew Wyke, an aging novelist, and Jude Law as Milo Tindle, the man who is having an affair with Wyke's wife. Tindle has come down from London to persuade Wyke to give his wife a divorce, but things don't go exactly the way Tindle expected.

Wyke has a proposition for Tindle: Tindle is to break into Wyke's house and steal some very expensive pieces of jewlery and then take off with Wyke's wife and the jewelry. Wyke insists he doesn't want his wife back, so Tindle is welcome to her. Both will benefit from Wyke's proposition: Tindle gets the woman and the jewelry, and Wyke is free of his wife and gets the insurance money for the "stolen" jewels.

I'm not going to say what happens after this because that would spoil all the fun. The interaction between the two turns into a psychological game of oneupmanship, in which the viewers, as well as the characters, are uncertain as to what is really taking place. Psychological control of the situation switches back-and-forth between the two men, until eventually, the viewers, at least this viewer anyway, no longer can distinguish between when the two are game-playing and when they aren't.

One of the problems I had was with the setting. The country house was unlike any country house I have seen. The exterior was typical for the English countryside, but the interior was stark and bare--mostly glass, metal, bare walls, open spaces, and high ceilings. It was also very hi-tech with CCTV, covering both the inside and outside of the house. Electronic controls were very prevalent. I found this distracting and lost track of the story as I spent more time looking at the setting than paying attention to the dialogue.

This film was made in 2007. It stars Michael Caine and Jude Law. The director is Kenneth Branagh, and the screenwriter is Harold Pinter, whose minimalist characteristics were evident in both the dialogue and the setting. The film is based on a play written by Anthony Shaffer.

There's one other point I should make about Sleuth. This is a remake of an earlier production which came out in 1972. The cast at that time included Lawrence Olivier as Andrew Wyke and Michael Caine as Milo Tindle. The 1972 version also included several others in the cast, so the 2007 version is a pared down version and definitely influenced by Pinter, I should say.

So, in 1972 we see Lawrence Olivier as Andrew Wyke, the aging novelist, and a younger Michael Caine as Milo Tindle. In 2007, we get an older Michael Caine as Wyke, the aging novelist, and Jude Law in the role of the younger man who steals Caine's wife. In 2042, will we see Jude Law as the aging novelist and ??? as Milo Tindle.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to see the 1972 version as it is not yet available on Netflix or at the public library. Perhaps it's time for a visit to one of the local rental places.


  1. I just watched this movie. Although the dialogue was clever, I just couldn't really care about either character. They were both creepy and manipulative, and I thought it would end with the death of both of them. As for the interior of the house, I think it was just to keep the audience engaged since the action of the characters was sporadic throughout the plot. I did see the original version a long time ago, but can't really remember it. It musn't have impressed me much. At least this movie was something a little different, and I'm glad you recommended it.


    Is Jude Law the new Michael Caine? He did the remake of "Alfie", too. ( I liked the original version better.)

  2. Cheryl,

    Yes, that was my reaction also. Neither of the two were sympathetic characters. I think the world could well do without either of them.

    I wasn't aware that there was a remake of _Alfie_. The original in most cases is better, although there may be exceptions.