Magazine article The Spectator

Botched Job

Magazine article The Spectator

Botched Job

Article excerpt

Sleuth 15, Nationwide

Tell me, what hope is there left in the world when Harold Pinter, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh -- and maybe Jude Law, should you wish to count him in -- can come together and make a film as sterile, mindless, pointless and wearisome as this?

I'd like to bang their heads together. I'd like to know just what they were thinking of. I suppose it looked good on paper, but even so. Once I'd gone beyond gasping at how anything could be this fatally amateurish, even my boredom got bored. Boredom, some say, is the greatest critic of all, although I wouldn't go that far. Kenneth Tynan was very good, and Pauline Kael.

The original Sleuth (1972) was a classy thriller about a deadly cat-and-mouse game played between an extremely wealthy crime novelist, Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier), and a young, charming English-Italian hairdresser, Milo Tindle (Michael Caine), both of whom are in love with Wyke's wife. It was written by Anthony Shaffer (who adapted his stageplay for the screen), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and I remember it still, even though I haven't seen it for probably 30 years. I remember being spellbound by all the twists and turns and the 'shock' dénouement, and I remember an amazing scene that had something to do with a lot of mechanical toys all going off at once.

Good cinema never leaves you, I guess. Bad cinema leaves pretty promptly, at least, for which we must all be grateful.

I bet it did look really, really good on paper. Pinter would rework the script, Branagh would direct and Caine would revisit the film, although this time in the role of the older, vindictive novelist. That was a smart move. I certainly thought, when I heard about it: yes, I would like to see that.

But while Caine is, without any doubt, absolutely the best thing in this Sleuth, as the film is entirely without purpose, so is his performance. Why didn't someone, anyone, bang all their heads together or, if not, at least talk them out of the following:

The setting: a high-tech country house with a cold, sleek, ultra-modern concrete interior of the kind that might have been designed by Darth Vader. Why? I couldn't tell you; know only that it always looks and feels like a set and is an irritating distraction. …

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