Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Written by Harold Pinter
Time 128 Minutes
Released 23 November
Sleuth is a film of names. Pinter. Branagh. Schaffer. Law. Caine. It’s also a vanity project for Jude Law, who still doesn’t understand his status as a mediocre actor who’s rapidly losing his looks. Based on the Anthony Schaffer play, made into a 1972 film starring Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, and now adapted by Harold Pinter, directed by Kenneth Branagh starring Michael Caine and Jude Law, this film is as soulless and confused as anything that rests on the compact achievements of its mechanisms.
Pinter’s famous “terse verse” can only be spoken and passed off as real speech by the most supremely confident and capable actor-and Michael Caine passes this off remarkably well, as the smug and successful crime writer Andrew Wyke. Jude Law flounders in a sea of words too simplistic and silences too sophisticated for his mealy mouthed delivery to grab hold of, and his performance as the simpering pretty boy Milo Tindle is the worst part of a very difficult film. Worse still is his attempt at character acting as a sleazy detective looking for a body that doesn’t exist. False teeth, a pot belly, spotty skin and a shitty accent an actor do not make, and the resultant character is no more horrifying than Law already, what with his visible hair weave and histrionic inclinations. The screenplay is veritably written out in Law’s haphazard delivery, and when Wyke finally shoots Tindle, I’d already wished he’d been torn apart by dogs, tortured by Harold Pinter with a sharp pen, a raging fire, and a bucket of water, mutilated by Michael Caine’s false teeth, or directed to death by Kenneth Branagh. The last very nearly happened, mind.
The screenplay sounds like it would read as a fast and furious encounter between two men hell-bent on destroying each other in a monumental pissing contest, but having Caine and Law, and only Caine and Law, onscreen for ninety minutes worth of one-upmanship was too stressful to be enjoyed. The set was like a steel trap, a ridiculous, over- sanitized hell-house devoid of comforts or convenience, and everything in it is controlled by a small remote-control device, wielded with relish by Caine, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the house had been designed by SPECTRE, and not Wyke’s wife.
Sleuth is a sad blot on Michael Caine’s CV, (right up there with Jaws: The Revenge!) but exactly what you’d expect from Branagh and Law. Shallow cinematic tripe with less brains and more offal.