Thriller writer Wyke (Caine) invites in Lothario Milo (Law) and makes him a proposition - stop shagging the wife and in return get the winnings from an insurance scam. One slight catch: Milo has to fake a jewellery heist in Wykes house. And so the game o
On paper, it sounds stellar. Caine and Law facing off like some luvvie-tastic Alien Vs. Predator in a Harold Pinter adaptation of Anthony Shaffer’s theatro-thriller. Still, paper can easily be screwed up, and on screen all those prestige names are reduced to a scribble. In keeping with Sleuth’s gimmicky nature (this is, essentially, two men being bastards in a room), this remake of a movie of a Broadway play is deliberately pinned on quirky casting. Caine, who played the Milo character in the 1972 movie, is now in the Larry Olivier role. And Law, who played Caine in the Alfie refit, is now in the Caine role. The pairing makes sense. It’s the rewrite that doesn’t.
Thematically speaking, Pinter’s on home ground - treachery, emotional violence, sexual politics - but boy, did he wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Where once there was a fun, feisty romp now seethes a cold tale of two snakes eating each other’s tails.
In Shaffer’s stageplay, we got gems like: “Marriage is the penalty: pass Go, collect 200 rows, 200 silences, 200 scars in the deep places...” Here we get: “You’re in love?” “Love?” “Yes, love.” “That’s right.” “Love will kick you up the arse.” Nice. The characters are stark and brash. Lowering those lizardy lids, at least Caine radiates
a superior scorn through those pregnant... Pinter... pauses. It’s Law who seems unsteady, especially in the flat third act.
And what’s Kenneth Branagh doing? Conducting some self-indulgent visual experiment in ostentatious minimalism. If it’s not the blue strip-joint lighting and Ikea migraine set bawling for your attention, it’s the forced perspective shots and endless neo-Expressionist licks.
The late Joe Mankiewicz directed the original and, respecting the stagebound energy, kept things tight, twisted and incredibly frisky. It’s this lightness of cruelty that’s lacking in this sour, numbing retread. You could call it feel-bad, but chances are you won’t feel anything at all.
Minus a couple of brisk, black laughs, this hollow remake botches the twists and sucks the fun right out of its feisty source.