Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Sleuth (2007) (and 1972)

This film received invariably rotten reviews as people compared it unfavourably with the fondly-remembered earlier version of Anthony Shaffer's stageplay, the last movie to be directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, which paired Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. I was therefore in no rush whatsoever to see this remake produced by Jude Law with his taking the Caine role (is he out to take on all of Caine's early roles?) and Sir Michael taking the Olivier part. Rewritten by Harold Pinter with the unnecessary addition of a slew of F-words, directed in an artsy-fartsy style by Kenneth Branagh, and amazingly for a re-make running some 40 minutes shorter than the original, I expected the worse, especially since I have previously reckoned that pretty-boy Law has as much depth as a dried-up stream. However, I must admit that within its "re-imagining", both actors were fine and the film worked more or less. What buffs like myself forget is that the modern viewer has probably never seen the original and that a remake can justifiably emerge as an entertainment in its own right.

However, comparing the two versions, one does miss the earlier elaborate country house setting with its toys, mechanical dolls, and clown costumes, marking Olivier as a man who likes to play games; the ultra-modern new set does not allow the same possibilities. The two films tell the same basic tale for the first two-thirds, but differ wildly in their third act; the newer version suggests some sort of unwelcome homosexual attraction between Caine and the sly, sex-exuding Law, whereas the original presented the viewer with a third deadly game in which the young Caine reduced Olivier to a quivering wreck before the final denouement. On balance I am in no doubt which version I prefer, even if I do find Olivier as something of an over-ripe ham in his later roles, but to give credit where it is due, the newer movie is far from a complete failure.
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