Sleuth – which version do you like best?
After screening Cube and Battle Royale, Sleuth got to finish the series, in the 2007 version starring Jude Law and Michael Caine. I’m not sure why the choice fell on the remake and not on the original. It could have been a question of availability.
I wasn’t familiar with this film at all before, but I ended up liking it quite a bit, but then I’ve always liked minimalistic, scaled down movies, where only the essentials remain: movies that take place in one location or consist of the conversation between two people.
A power game
You could describe Sleuth as a power game between two men. On one side is an author of crime novels, on the other side is a young man who turns out to be the lover of the author’s wife. Unknowing of the plans that the author has for him, the lover arrives at his house where they have an appointment. And the game can start, where not only their honour and dignity are at stake, but also their lives.
While the conversation felt pretty theatrical (it’s based on a play, so no wonder there), I still enjoyed the acting performances of Michael Caine and Jude Law as well as the simple, stylish and sci-fi inspired look. Not to mention the dialogue! This is the kind of film that is as good as the screenplay is and the 2007 version is written by no less than the Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter.
What I couldn’t quite buy into was the role of the woman in this drama. We never get the chance to see her; she’s only present in the way the two men talk about her. They certainly don’t make her sound like a human being with her own free will, on par with them and fully capable of making her own decisions. It embraces the stereotype of the woman who thoughtlessly spends her money on expensive vanity things until the point when she becomes a burden to her husband who has to support her. This feels very dated, especially since the film is supposed to take place in our time.
But all in all I was happy with this new acquaintance, so happy that I felt the urge to check out the 1972 version of Sleuth as well. It turned out that I liked this one even more.
It’s far longer than the remake, which could be a drawback for a modern viewer, but in this case I count it as a plus. It leaves room for much more of funny dialogues and mind wrestling between the two antagonists. I also loved the way they’ve designed the house in the 1972 version. There’s something eerie about it, filled as it is by moving toys of various kinds, just like the maker’s apartment in Blade Runner.
So, I’ve hopefully raised your curiosity about those two films, which one should you watch?
I would say that you should pick the newer one if you’re either obsessively in love with Jude Law or if you can’t bear the thought of watching a movie over two hours long. But those are the exceptions. Everyone else I’d rather point to the 1972 film, provided that you can get hold of it.
A curious fact is that Michael Caine plays in both of the movies. In the first version he’s the young lover and Laurence Olivier, plays the older man. In the 2007 version Michael Caine is the older and Jude Law has taken up the role he once had.
Of course this makes you wonder if there’s some sort of pattern in this. Will or won’t there be another remake in the future where Jude Law is the author and someone new, younger is the lover?
To be honest I hope not.
Sleuth from 1972 is a wonderful, highly entertaining movie that deserves all the love it gets. But there’s no good reason for the remakes, neither in 2007, or in the future.
Sleuth (Kenneth Branagh, UK 2007) My rating: 3,5/5
Sleuth (Joseph L. Makiewicz, UK 1972) My rating: 4/5