In Sleuth, veteran British actor Michael Caine (Miss Congeniality, Children of Men) eagerly matches his polished and experienced acting skills with the youthful gifts and energy of fellow British actor, Jude Law (Cold Mountain, Closer). The result is a dynamic display of tension-filled dialogue with first-rate performances from both actors. Sleuth is directed by Kenneth Branaugh (The Magic Flute), with the screenplay written by Harold Pinter, author of screenplays for The French Lieutenant's Woman and The Go-Between, and winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature. Pinter and Branaugh both helped produce this film, are also accomplished actors themselves, and Pinter even plays a minor role. Movie fans have a right to expect something exceptional from these gifted artists, and they will not be disappointed.
Sleuth is taken from the Tony Award-winning Anthony Shaffer play of the same name. This is the second time Shaffer's play has been made into a movie. The earlier Sleuth, released in 1972, starred Caine in the role of Tindle, and Sir Lawrence Olivier as Wyke. The 1972 film was over two hours long, but this more contemporary version is trimmed to less than an hour and a half. It's the same story, but a completely different movie.
Without revealing vital information about the plot, Sleuth is a story of two men who appear to be interested in the same woman. Admittedly, that isn't a very original idea, but the way the story is told is not only original but spellbinding as well. Caine plays Andrew Wyke, a very successful novelist, and Law portrays Milo Tindle, an unemployed actor. One day, responding to an invitation, Tindle pays a visit to Wyke's home only to find himself tangled up in a game devised by the sinister and paranoid Wyke.
The cinematography of Sleuth is exceptional despite the fact that nearly every scene is indoors, so there is no benefit from spectacular outdoor vistas. Wyke lives in a large house that, from the exterior, appears to be an ordinary box-like structure. However, indoors it looks like the main exhibit in a museum of futuristic design. Everything is steel, stone and glass with nothing warm, soft or living. The roof is high and full of skylights, which always seem to be darkened. A ladder descends from the ceiling while a transparent elevator ascends to the bedroom from the center of the living area. Interior walls move vertically or horizontally by remote control. A large mobile aquarium shields the entrance to a safe. Small spotlights rotate and spin in the ceiling. Over all this is the sheen of perfect color and lighting. A slight red glow on the elevator floor hints of blood, which may or may not be present. Cold blue light tints a room while an open doorway in the back smiles with a warm yellow glow. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos' vision is enchanting. The house, and the atmosphere it creates, are also stars of this film.
However, evil seethes under this gleaming, sterile shell. There's a reason why Wyke lives alone in this glossy environment, and it's the same reason no one should visit him unaccompanied as Tindle does, especially not someone who has been messing with his wife. But the immature and foolish Tindle, unaware of what awaits him, shows up at Wyke's house, and the game begins. Has the egotistical Wyke become so wrapped up in his crime fiction that he's actually become one of the villains of his novels? Perhaps. His house and property are surrounded by security cameras, and he spends much of his time watching the monitor, apparently checking for intruders. Wyke and Tindle verbally spar over the woman, but neither cares about her or takes her interests into consideration. They only care about controlling her. Before he knows the rules, or the consequences of winning or losing, Tindle finds himself snared. "Is this a game?" the somewhat perplexed Tindle asks, as Wyke flourishes a knife and a gun. "This is a real game," Wyke replies.
Since the dangers they face and the problems confronting them are self-generated, it's hard to care much about the actors in Sleuth, but it's even harder to take your eyes off them. Wyke is more mature, controlled and, therefore, more dangerous, and Tindle's emotional outbursts are almost juvenile in nature. Wyke keeps insulting Tindle by calling him a hairdresser, and these verbal attacks take their toll. Both men have bisexual appetites, and this added sexual tension is nearly palpable.
Like real life, the best films seem to always contain some unresolved questions, and Sleuth is no exception. Why does the paranoid Wyke appear to live alone in fear when he could easily afford bodyguards? Why is the brash young Tindle unfamiliar with Wyke's books, when the detective investigating the sound of gunshots has read several of them? Sleuth is great entertainment with fine acting from a flawless script, and presented on the screen with some of the best cinematography of the year.