The only mystery is why they bothered to remake it


on September 10, 2007 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
Sleuth , the 1972 mystery drama starring Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, was an entertaining piece of hokum, a chance to watch two great performers match wits and (over)act in a convoluted tale of a famous mystery writer (Olivier) who invites his wife's lover (Caine) over to his house in order to play mind games with him, and, just possibly, kill him. Thirty-five years later, the film has been remade, shortened by a third and recast with Caine in the role Olivier played in the original and Jude Law in the part of the lover.

Needless to say, these changes are not improvements on what came before. By eliminating much of the original film's exposition, the characters' motivations make less sense than before, as they seem to act on whims that aren't believable or organic to the plot. Nor does Harold Pinter's overly spare, elliptical script, based on the stageplay by Anthony Shaffer, add anything germane to the film—it's just his usual obvious wordplay that doesn't say much new about the human condition.

However, the film's biggest misfire is in the casting of Law. The callow actor simply doesn't have the acting chops to go up against Caine, who wipes the floor with him even as he does his level best to fashion something out of an underwritten, empty part.

At least one can see why Caine would leap at the opportunity to essay the role he didn't take on in the first Sleuth , but what's director Kenneth Branagh ( Hamlet , The Magic Flute ) doing slumming here? Sure, he gets to set up a lot of off-kilter and odd camera angles that simulate how Caine's character is spying on his adversary, but it's all just a lot of distracting direction that can't hide the film's paucity as drama, mystery or thriller. More than most remakes, this Sleuth is completely superfluous.

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Distributor: Sony Classics
Cast: Michael Caine and Jude Law
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenwriter: Harold Pinter
Producers: Jude Law, Simon Halfon, Tom Sternberg, Marion Pilowksy, Kenneth Branagh and Simon Moseley
Genre: Mystery drama
Rating: R for strong language
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: October 12, 2007 NY/LA
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