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SLEUTH

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Michael Caine, Jude Law
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Sony
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: March 11, 2008

ďThis real game has just begun.Ē

Film ***

The original 1972 film version of Sleuth, adapted from the play by Anthony Schaffer, is a film Iíve always wanted to see but just never got around to. Itís simply a film that flew under my radar, like so many acclaimed films I have yet to see. And so I might be breaking a rule amongst critics in experiencing it for the first time in the form of a remake.

However, the talent involved both behind and in front of the camera, was enough to lure me to want to see this new version. Not only do we have the likes of Michael Caine and Jude Law facing off in a psychological game of wits, but we also have none other than Kenneth Branagh in the directorís chair and noted playwright Harold Pinter handling the adapted screenplay. With such talent involved in a project, you simply canít go wrong.

Letís concentrate on the casting of the two leads here, which is quite genius. Caine, of course, was in the original film version, which had him engaging in mind games opposite Sir Laurence Oliver. The plot in the 72 version involved Oliverís character, Andrew Wyke, setting up a battle of wits against his wifeís lover, Milo Tindle (Caine). In the remake, Caine is now in role of Wyke, and Tindle is played by Jude Law, who also happened to play the lead in the remake of Alfie, a role made famous by Caine in 1966.

Again, I havenít seen the originalÖand I plan too eventually, but given how Branagh and Pinter have kept the proceedings to a single setting, Wykeís castle-like booby-trapped mansion, itís clear that this version is very close in tone to the stage play. Iíve also taken into consideration that this canít be a direct remake of the original film, since it carried a running time of 138 minutes while this version runs only an hour and a half.

However, the central plot remains the same. Milo Tindle (Law), an aspiring actor, arrives at the estate of aging author Andrew Wyke (Caine) to tell him that his wife is planning to divorce him. But rather than agree to a settlement, Wyke proposes a challenge to Tindle. The challenge is to engage in a theft of jewels right from his safe, and should Tindle succeed his reward will be an easy $800,000, and the fake robbery will have a hefty insurance check heading Wykeís way.

Right away, though, we can see that the old man has something else in store for the young man his wife has left him for. In fact, he has set Tindle up to become a pawn in a most elaborate game. Will Tindle be able to outsmart him?

Now even though this remake may sound like something experimental, I have to say that the overall product does deliver. From the very first scene, itís easy to see that Caine and Law are having a ball playing off one another. And Pinterís nasty dialogue provides many incredible moments for both actors.

Whatís more, Branagh has brought a lot to the table in terms of style. I mentioned earlier that the entire film takes place in a single setting, but what a set piece this is. Wykeís estate is a techno-surveillance geekís dream come true, and Branagh has applied many effective qualities to the look of this place as far as colors and unique camera angles are concerned.

So while I canít compare the quality of the original film to this remake, I can at least say that this stylish remake of Sleuth is such a success, that I want to see the original now more than ever. If the film ended up being horrid, I canít say I would feel as enthusiastic, which wouldíve meant that I made a huge mistake by seeing the remake first. But the dynamic acting by Caine and Law, and the excellent directing by Branagh combine to make a remake that Iím sure anyone wonít want to dismiss, whether youíve seen the original or not.

Video ****

The amazing look of this film really shows in this fantastic looking presentation from Sony. The entire film is an indoor piece, and the crisp and super clean picture quality is superb in making this setting seem larger than life. The blue and black color palette that runs throughout the film appears nothing short of astonishing. A visually remarkable presentation all the way!

Audio ***

Because this film is an adaptation of a stage play, it should surprise no one that this is strictly a dialogue driven piece, but the 5.1 mix turns out to be an impressive mix nonetheless. The superb set design allows for some strong dialogue delivery, and the piano score by Patrick Doyle also sounds quite marvelous.

Features ***

A nice batch of extras find their way onto this Sony release. We have two commentary tracks; the first one with Kenneth Branagh and Michael Caine, the second one with Jude Law. Both commentaries are intriguing and very informative about what went down during production. Also included are two featurettes, ďA Game of Cat and Mouse: Behind the Scenes of SleuthĒ and ďInspector Black: Make Up Secrets RevealedĒ, as well as a lengthy Bonus Preview gallery, including trailers for Revolver, Across the Universe and Youth Without Youth.

Summary:

Although I wish I had made time to see the original film version of Sleuth prior to seeing this remake, I am more than satisfied with my first experience of this cat and mouse game, thanks to some marvelous acting and some incredible directing, not to mention those in charge of the production design. Style and substance both blend tremendously here.

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