On the sly
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Harold Pinter
Starring: Michael Caine, Jude Law
Based on the play by Anthony Shaffer, Sleuth is hard to box into a film genre. With a plot as slippery and intriguing as the film’s visual direction, Sleuth is full of surprises, sharp performances and interesting perspectives. But while the film’s ability to elude familiar genre conventions can come across as original, they can equally come across as vague – losing their steam and our interest as the film progresses to a rather abrupt end.
Sleuth is a dialogue-heavy film, completely closed off in the mansion of a wealthy crime novelist who invites his wife’s lover – an out of work actor – to come over for an unexpected series of mind games. Within this limited location, Branagh uses surveillance technology as a way of following the different mood and moves of each character so that the act of watching, being watched and psychologically pursued are given many evocative visual perspectives. It works, but more importantly, Caine and Law bring the rollercoaster emotions into the shot, whether they’re even in it or not.
Caine and Law pull off the oddly matched duo perfectly, using the bizarre twists and turns of the plot to peel the layers off each character so that they become increasingly vulnerable, complex and ambiguous. It all sounds very captivating and engaging, but in its cinematic execution, Sleuth exhausts itself of its unique characteristics all too quickly, and fails to sustain the intrigue and suspense that it masterfully executed in the opening.
With a few unnecessary and unexciting visual tricks, Sleuth relies too heavily on a quirky plot that requires a lot more atmospheric tension and surreal affectation than what is offered in the film. It may have been better left onstage.