Movie Reviews
3:43 pm
Sun December 9, 2007

Sleuth

More than meets the eye.

"If thou canst cuckold him, thou dost

thyself a pleasure, me a sport." Iago in Shakespeare's Othello

Anthony Shaffer's brother, Peter, was famously about "What's that all about?" if you remember the mysteries of Equus. Playwright Anthony's Sleuth also requires a competent literary "sleuth" to figure out the multiple levels of meaning in a film that could be just about revenge if you looked no further. This brilliant adaptation by minimalist Harold Pinter contains his usual spare dialogue and non sequitur logic to provoke wonderment and amusement in a discerning audience that knows there's more than meets the eye and ear.

Wealthy novelist Andrew Wyke (Michael Caine) is visited in his impressive estate by his wife's lover, Milo Tindle (Jude Law). From the first interchange about the superiority of Wyke's car, which is placed nose to nose with Tindle's in an obviously figurative bird's-eye shot, the debate takes on a tennis metaphor, where each combatant takes a set and the resolution becomes a tangled endgame.

While it is easy to guess Shaffer has planned the author initially to be the manipulative superior as he guides his guest through one of the year's best set designs with its modern sharp edges and dazzling electronics, the play/film evolves with each character (this is a two hander where not even the tennis-ball wife physically intrudes) gets a chance to prove his worth for the absent but always present wife. Director Kenneth Branagh's close-ups are merciless upon Caine's age lines emphasizing his wisdom and Law's beauty featuring his youthful volatility and vulnerability. But the prevalent high angle motif puts all the mayhem in perspective: The cuckold will not be denied, no matter how daring, resourceful, and remorseless the intruder is; the men's sexuality will be challenged no matter how masculine the actors are. Ambiguity rules as it should in all effective literature and in life itself.

While the screenplay is literate beyond anything out there all year, the film belongs to the actors, Law soaring beyond his Ripley charm and Caine even better than when he played Law's Tindle in a previous screen version 35 years ago. The story about infidelity is universally appealing, as if it had never been told before and justice had never been rendered so well.