Sleuth

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Posted November 9, 2007 in Film

Calculating crime novelist Andrew Wyke (Michael Caine) makes it his business to know the answers to his rivals’ questions before they even open their mouths. When he presses foppish actor/chauffeur Milo Tindle (Jude Law) with “You’re sure your father isn’t Hungarian?” you half expect the writer to unveil a long-lost genealogical chart tracing his wife’s lover’s line back to Bela Lugosi. Milo is at Andrew’s harshly modernist mansion to ask him to allow his wife a divorce. Bizarrely, Andrew would rather Milo steal £1 million in jewels from the safe in his bedroom. And so the two ill-tempered and insecure men poke, prod, and claw at each other’s motives in this twisty battle-of-egos that’s nasty, brutish, and sharp. With all the doors, cameras, and lights in Andrew’s austere palace controlled by a remote (which he clings to as tightly as Adam Sandler in Click), Kenneth Branagh’s update of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1972 Oscar winner often feels like a chess game on a space ship with Andrew and Milo taking turns mistaking the other for pawns. And that this smart (though slightly safer) adaptation of Anthony Schaffer’s original script is penned by Nobel-winning playwright Harold Pinter—a specialist in clinically dissecting human frailty—invites Branagh to indulge in distancing camera tics like shooting his actors through TV screens, mini-blinds, and glassware, or with their heads cut out of the frame. But while his goofy art house tendencies (including an ill-thought dalliance with homo-eroticism) trigger a few giggles, ultimately the clever and crisply-acted power struggle seizes your attention as the over-confident Andrew schools the in-over-his-head Milo that “the shortest way to a man’s heart is humiliation.” (Amy Nicholson)


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