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The Best of 2007: 'Sleuth'

Sleuth (2007)


Sleuth has got to be one the most underrated movies of 2007. A remake nonetheless of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1972 film adaptation of Anthony Shaffer's play of the same title. However, and that is a big however, this film differs greatly in that this film's first two acts is in fact a retelling of the play but it is the third act (that would technically give this film a fourth act if you want to call it that) that is completely original. Just as graceful with age, Michael Caine, who originally played the part of the younger man in the original film, gracefully takes over the part of the older writer once played with confident gusto by the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier in the original film. Caine takes a more subtle approach showing us wonderful bits of carefully concealed anger and the poise of a man with multiple tricks up his sleeve when having a mental "putting up of the dukes" with Jude Law's new interpretation of the young actor (once played by Caine in the '72 film) shooting back with subdued forms of intensity and oozing charisma.

What makes this Sleuth so fascinating is the new elements of mystery that fans of the original play would not have expected. It's like a reading your favorite mystery except Harold Pinter, a playwright legendary for his plays about people destroying each other through words, has written a coda that has mysteriously now appeared at the end of the book. The case for retelling it through the brilliant direction of Shakespearean prodigy Kenneth Branagh (known for his glorious adaptations of England's most famous playwright's works: Henry V (1989), Much Ado about Nothing (1993), and Hamlet (1996), and for his just as impressive non-Shakespearean work: Dead Again (1991), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), and Peter's Friends (1992) becomes then quite clear. To put it plainly, these two men are fighting over the same woman. We never see her in person-- only through gigantic still photos laid out throughout Michael Caine's character's house. It is established very early and clearly that Maggie (played in stills by the very beautiful Carmel O'Sullivan) is married to Michael Caine's Andrew, but Jude Law's Milo wants them to divorce considering he and Maggie have apparently fallen deeply in love. As the film progresses and Andrew and Milo begin to negotiate the terms and the games to prove who the bigger man is, it should become obvious that Andrew has not talked to Maggie in a long time, nor has he seen her in a long time. All he has left of her are these gigantic photos. Milo should be eventually realized as someone who is definitely not all as he seems and seems to represent something all too familiar to Andrew. Both characters are seemingly showing up together to be very direct and while at the same time do not seem to realize what the other's true intentions really are. The insinuations and innuendo in this film become so intertwined with everything preceding the third act that the new coda becomes pure subtext and lines between the lines.

That being said, the reason why I think Sleuth has gone greatly misunderstood and hopefully will be given additional chances by those who understand this film's themes will come to realize some of the very amazing ideas (and theories) this film can generate in a viewer's brain. If anything, it's great to watch two guys toy, lie, and screw with each other for 90 minutes.