*/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B
starring Michael Caine, Jude Law
screenplay by Harold Pinter, based on the play by Anthony Shaffer
directed by Kenneth Branagh
by Walter Chaw Call it an actor's workshop, if you must, but it's more like an actor's mausoleum, and the Anthony Shaffer source material, as punched-up by Harold Pinter just prior to Pinter's death in the classic unfilmable Pinter style, is hopelessly stagebound and déclassé. It's old people playing at Patrick Marber, falling into the exact trap that most adaptations of Ian McEwan have fallen: mistaking the author fucking with us for great insights into the human condition. Sleuth, Kenneth Branagh's reboot of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's museum piece starring Laurence Olivier and a thirty-six-years-younger Michael Caine, brings Caine back in the Olivier role, with Jude Law once again taking over for Caine after the Alfie remake. It's terrible stuff, stiff and laboured and crippled by self-importance, self-aggrandizing camera trickery, and foreground symbolism that fails from its Osterman Weekend surveillance paranoia all the way through to its willing suspension of disbelief in a pair of performances that never for a moment feel like anything but performances. Most disappointingly, there's a conspicuous lack of fun in a picture that seems more interested in the antagonists' psychology than in exploiting the possibilities of a piece surgically tuned to being a lark. Excavations of male psychology beyond the urge to gamesmanship have absolutely no place in Sleuth: you can talk about why guys lay their dicks on the bar, but you shouldn't do it for an entire feature. Branagh's strength as a director of Shakespeare is as an ambassador for the Bard's latent themes of sociological aggression and animism, while his Dead Again proved that even without Shakespeare, his ear for the operatic could carry the day in an artfully campy supernatural melodrama. But in applying his anthropologist's touch to Sleuth, he's met his match: there's nothing to unearth because the dig site is, frankly, sterile.