Michael Caine and Jude Law are the two stars of Sleuth, and two stars is all this leaden stab at updating one of the former's 1970s successes deserves. Caine, taking a role that was originally Olivier's, plays the wealthy crime writer locked in a battle of wits with the cocky young actor (Law) who's run off with his wife. Neither, however, are well-served by Kenneth Branagh's heavy-handed direction or a Harold Pinter script that suicidally jettisons the original's intricately worked plotting.
The film is set within the confines of the elegant country house Caine's Andrew Wyke has transformed into a hi-tech palace of gleaming designer modernism. Pinter's adaptation of Anthony Shaffer's play sees its characters swap loaded exchanges, waspish barbs and ominous silences as they plot an insurance scam that will allow both to benefit from the theft of Wyke's jewels. That, of course, is just the opening salvo in a tale with more than one surprise to spring before it reaches its deadly endgame.
"WOEFUL LACK OF CHEMISTRY"
Since none of the twists are remotely credible, however, Sleuth is conspicuously short of the psychological intensity found in Pinter's best stage work. Maybe that explains why Branagh cranks up the style, steeping the action in the marble greys and chilly blues of a set that resembles nothing so much as the ninth circle of hell envisioned by Damien Hirst. No amount of visual flourish, sadly, can compensate for the woeful lack of chemistry between the leads or arch dialogue that sounds more like a Pinter parody than the man himself.
Sleuth is out in the UK on 23rd November 2007.