Sleuth

Sleuth

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A big, lonely house full of unexpected devices - sliding walls, hidden safes, dizzying lights. Surveillance cameras everywhere. Two men confront one another. One of them, Andrew, lives in the house, whose interior was designed by his wife Maggie; he's a crime writer, fond of constructing misleading narratives. The other, Milo, is Maggie's lover, and has come to ask that Andrew give her a divorce; he's an actor, skilled in his own forms of deception. As each seeks to gain the upper hand, a battle of wits grows increasingly dangerous. Which one of them will win?

Shaffer's tight and merciless play is ideal territory for Pinter, whose adaptation suits the actors well and increases the atmosphere of menace. An hour and a half of Pinter's clipped dialogue can be a bit much for any audiences, but Jude Law, as Milo, proves adept at softening it, giving it a more organic quality. He's playing it straight (with the audience, at least), rather than drawing on the writer's surrealist background, and this helps to emphasise his naivete and youthful vulnerability.

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Of course, Andrew is a vulnerable character too, in his different ways, and it's interesting to see what Michael Caine can do with the role bearing in mind that, 35 years ago, he played the part of Milo opposite Laurence Olivier. Though his performance is much more sparing than Law's, much less emotive, he carries it well, and his masterful silences give us glimpses into the intense feelings this restrained man harbours. The balance of audience sympathies may vary according to the age of each viewer and the position with which they most closely identify, but both characters manage to be sympathetic and interesting, quite a feat when we consider that we're seeing them at their most unpleasant.

Sleuth's flaws ultimately centre on its origins. It wasn't originally created for film, and not much has been done here which couldn't be done on stage. The sets look boxy and a little bit twee; the old-fashioned design makes the story itself seem outdated. This cannot really be recommended as a cinematic experience. However, it's a thrilling piece of theatre, and a good chance to see two of the country's most capable actors at their best. If you're looking for a film which will engage your brain, this is an excellent choice.

Reviewed on: 14 Nov 2007
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Sleuth packshot
A young man visits the husband of the woman he loves to demand that he give her a divorce - but which of them is the predator and which the prey?
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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writer: Harold Pinter, adapted from the play by Anthony Shaffer.

Starring: Michael Caine, Jude Law, Harold Pinter

Year: 2007

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Bradford 2008

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