Pinter Does Sleuth

I sometimes like to assess the potential of up-coming films by their pedigree. Who’s in it, who directed it, who wrote it, what did they do before.

It’s probably a bit like a betting man assessing his horses before they run in the race.

On that basis, the 2007 version of Anthony Shaffer’s stage play ‘Sleuth’ was a thrilling proposition indeed.

I first saw the original film, with Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, and Alec Cawthorne one Christmas Night on telly many years ago and it quite literally knocked me out of my seat.

Now comes the new version with Caine coming back in the Olivier part, Jude Law taking the Caine part, Kenneth Branagh directing and (just bloody wait for this) a new adaptation of the original play by none other than the great Harold Pinter himself.

I mean, is that a pedigree or is that a pedigree?

So it’s out on DVD. I just got to see it last night – I don’t get to the cinema much anymore. Here’s what I thought. Before I get into that, let me reassure you that I will work hard to allow ‘Sleuth’ to keep its little secrets in case you haven’t ever seen it.

The first problem is that so many people know this story from its previous incarnations. Let’s face it, if you know the story, then certain aspects of the twisty-turny plot will not be able to surprise you a second time around. It becomes more interesting to study the technicalities of how the story unfolds rather than to become involved in the story all over again.

That’s what I found anyway.

But Branagh and Pinter know this. They knew the clever plot won’t carry this show a second time around. They knew they had to do something more with it.

And they did.

What did they do? Well they made a ‘Harold Pinter’ play out of it, that’s what they did. What previously was a fairly over-the-top romp through the world of whodunnits and theatrical excesses has now become a surgical, ice-cold study in man’s inhumanity to man.

Branagh, as director, works hard to ‘direct as Pinter writes’. There are loads of obtuse camera-angles, distorted reflections, games played with time and space. And… … …pauses. Several elongated pauses, one of them so long that it felt like the protagonist was about to announce the winner of ‘X-Factor.’

As a side-note, Pinter does not seem as attached to his pauses as the people who direct his works are. When Harold played the lead in his own play ‘One For the Road’ he left out most of the pauses which allegedly trademark his work.

So ‘Sleuth’ is back, reinvented.

But is it any good?

I think the film never quite resolves what it wants to be. Is it an art-house oddity or is it a mainstream big budget thriller? In trying to be both, it fails to be either.

There is much to admire, the acting is very good, Pinter’s writing is ‘Pinteresque’ and the design is cold and blue and striking.

I love Pinter. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

However, I don’t think everyone will.


Rachel Fox said...

I loved the old film...watched it as a kid and thought it was fantastic. I won't rush to see the new beloved has one of his pathological hatreds directed at Jude Law, for a start...(mind you if Jude Law's character were to be brutally murdered he might go for that...). Also I am not a Pinter fan as yet so that wouldn't attract me either...I might just watch the old one again!

Ken Armstrong said...

Watching the old one sounds like a fun idea.

Jude Law seems to be on a 'do-everything-wot-Michael Caine-ever-did' kick, what with Alfie and now this.

Rachel Fox said...

'do-everything-wot-Michael Caine-ever-did-but-not-as-well'?

I've never been a huge Michael Caine fan or anything...til he's one of those actors who is sometimes much, much better than you expect him to be. I love him in 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' for example. It's a load of old nonsense but quite funny nonsense and he is great in it.

Dave King said...

An excellent review. Someone should give you an opening as a professional reviewer; you've made me want to see it.

Jim Murdoch said...

Could it be any worse than Tim Burton's "re-imagining" of Planet of the Apes? I'll watch it because even if all of the people you mention are only half as good as they can be then it'll be a decent film.

Oooh, talking about decent films: Tuesday 20th May, BBC1, 11:35pm – The Station Agent.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Dave. Let me know when you see it eh?

No Jim, it is *definitely* not worse than that remake of Planet of the Apes - what the hell were they thinking?

Station Agent looks good - 'haven't seen it, thanks for the heads up.

Jena Isle said...

I can't find your entrecard Ken.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jeez, Jenna, that's a mystery. *I* can see it... (sure, isn't it right there?!). And I'm still getting some drops...

Is there anyone else having trouble seeing my EC?

Knock once for yes...


PS thanks for letting me know.

Jena Isle said...

I see it now Ken. For a while, it wasn't there. I went over it thrice - none. I Proceeded to other sites, when I returned to it again, there it was.

Jim Murdoch said...


Jena Isle said...

It is back , but only after sometime. Now I can see it now,