Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Michael Caine, Jude Law
Watch Sleuth online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
These days, the word “remake” has an increasingly slippery definition. It could be a “re-imagination” or a reinterpretation of the original source text. Kenneth Branagh and Harold Pinter’s take on Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth is about as clean-cut as it gets: not a single syllable of the play’s original script remains.
The premise is recognisable, as young hairdresser Milo Tindle (Law) visits his lover’s husband, successful author Wyke (Caine). Invited by the latter, the lukewarm confrontation quickly heats up, as Wyke makes a proposal: steal his jewels and he can have his wife.
But the familiar twist from Sleuth’s original run is cast aside for something more, well, Harold Pinter. A role-playing game develops, as Wyke and Tindle battle for control. Brandishing a knife, then a gun, Caine’s impotent cuckold pushes Law’s intimidated youngster over the edge. The jewels having changed hands, things take a turn towards the dangerous.
Interspersed by silence, the endless exchange of enquiries is a showcase for Pinter’s typically unnerving pen. Acted out by the two competent leads, the struggle for power evolves into a tussle of identities and the waters are muddied to the point of bewilderment. But if Pinter’s well-worn showdown of wits feels stagey, it’s meant to: the barrage of uncertainty and artificiality is emphasised by the deliberately claustrophobic set.
Behind the camera, Branagh’s visual trickery warps the minimalist production into a twisted tomb; full of gadgets and tight angles, Wyke’s mansion is defined less by its realism and more by its coffin-like elevator. Enclosed in an environment of hostility, each line of dialogue pricking with the staccato strings of Patrick Doyle’s tense soundtrack, the antagonists are deconstructed to the point of non-existence. Unanswered mysteries resound within the whitewashed walls. Convoluted and elusive, yet always disconcerting, Sleuth is pure Pinter distilled onto the screen.