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Michael Caine and Jude Law in Sleuth

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

REMAKES are seldom a good idea – and Jude Law and Michael Caine should know better than most.

Law has already taken a critical bashing for attempting to update Caine’s seminal ’60s flick Alfie, while Caine himself has candidly admitted that remaking Get Carter with Sylvester Stallone was a bad idea.

So what attracted them to Sleuth – Kenneth Branagh’s updated take on the 1972 two-hander starring Caine and Sir Laurence Olivier?

According to the stars themselves it was Harold Pinter’s script, which differs greatly from Anthony Shaffer’s original. And yet the central conceit is still the same. Two men enter into a deadly psychological game over a woman the audience never sees. Andrew Wyke, the older of the two (and played by Caine), is the husband and a successful writer, while Milo Tindle (Law), is the younger and a struggling actor.

The battle of wits takes place at the high-tec home of Wyke and involves each man attempting to gain the upper hand. Wyke, for instance, tempts Tindle into taking part in a jewellery scam that might provide them both with a windfall. There’s even question marks placed over the sexuality of both men.

Yet what should have been a tense, claustrophobic affair is undone by a curious lack of fireworks between the two stars.

Caine is terrific, sliding easily into the shoes once worn by Laurence Olivier. But Law fares badly in the role originally occupied by his co-star. His performance borders on the pantomime and audiences seldom feel as though he’s capable of winning the tussle, thereby depriving the film of any tension.

Whereas Branagh can (and does) train his camera on Caine’s face and allow him to act without saying any words (capturing a couple of exemplary moments), Law simply can’t stay still and his big moments are largely fluffed.

The variations in plot also fail to ring true, with the homosexual undertow that occupies the third act proving a particularly damp squib after the ingenuity of the games that have come before.

Branagh includes some nice moments of direction and makes the most of the high concept palace that provides the setting – but even that tends to detract from some of the character’s interplay.

The end result is therefore a film that struggles to hold much interest despite the very best efforts of Caine.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 88mins
UK DVD Release: April 28, 2008