Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2007 TIFF—Sleuth

The wicked bitchiness between two men is pitched darkly perfect in Sleuth, Kenneth Branagh's incisive tête-à-tête remake of Joseph Mankiewicz's final film Sleuth (1972), based upon Anthony Schaeffer's 1970 Tony Award-winning play and given a whole new set of teeth by Nobel laureate Harold Pinter. This is absolutely one of the few times I can say without reservation that I prefer the remake to the original. It bites much deeper and draws blood.

First of all, the casting is impeccable for all its ironic inversions. Michael Caine one-ups Laurence Olivier's characterization of crime novelist Andrew Wyke by adding a sinister dimension riddled with morbid jealousy. Jude Law steps in to play Milo Tindle—the second time he has reinterpreted one of Caine's previous roles—but, whereas he didn't quite hit the mark with Alfie, he redeems himself here by being a cocky foil for Caine's nuanced Wyke. They square off face to face and the blows are low and psychological.

The plot remains essentially the same. Andrew Wyke, a wealthy writer of detective novels who delights in playing elaborate games has become aware that Milo Tindle, a hairdresser who fancies himself an up-and-coming actor, is having an affair with his wife. They meet at Wyke's isolated high tech home where they indulge and evade surveillance cameras as facilely as each others' queries. With intricate calculation, Wyke proposes to Tindle that—though willing to grant his wife a divorce—he must first be assured that Tindle will be able to keep her in the style to which she has become accustomed. To this effect, he appeals to Tindle's need for money, suggesting they stage a theft of valuable jewels in Wyke's safe that Tindle can fence for a high profit while Wyke cashes in on the insurance. This proposal sets up a sequence of schemes and double-crosses that leave each being a cat with drawn claws one moment, and a mouse with dashed hopes the next. The shifts of power are intoxicatingly entertaining. They spin so fast and so frequently the viewer is dizzied by the repartee and the teethmarks on your hand make you say, "Ouch" with a smile.

The tension between them dalliances vertiginously with the homoerotic as Patrick Doyle's tango-esque score kicks heel to calf. Tim Harvey's production design caters to Pinter's every word. I'm ready to listen to this bitch fight all over again.

Cross-published at Twitch.