Sunday, February 26, 2012

Movie Monday #14: Sleuth

Most of you who read this blog have gotten to know my viewing habits fairly well.  I tend to like pretty much whatever I watch, since I don't go out of my way to watch movies I'll hate.  But recently I came across a movie that made me squirm in my seat, and it wasn't from horrific special effects, either.  It was the 2007 remake of Sleuth, starring Jude Law and Michael Caine.  I picked it up for $2.50 and, as you'll find out, that's about all it was worth.


"Do you fancy me?"

Jude Law as Milo Tindle, Sleuth

I just came up with a new t-shirt slogan that would best describe this blog--“I came.  I saw.  I bought cheap movies.”  I wish I had a shirt like that, because it would describe my experience at the Fairchance Pharmacy in Fairchance, PA, not so far from my hometown of Uniontown, PA, where I spent some time picking up, what else, cheap movies.

The Fairchance Pharmacy actually has a video rental joint inside of it, and they do a good business in new and used merchandise.  I had a ball looking through their used items, and picked up four movies that day, all of which will be the subject of later reviews.  One of these films, Sleuth, caught my eye because it only had two actors in the entire film--Michael Caine and Jude Law.  Let’s dive in and see what they have to offer us.

The movie opens with a montage of surveillance camera footage as a car pulls up to a recently remodeled English manor.  Andrew Wyke (Caine) is the owner of this manor; he’s a world-famous crime writer who recently separated from his wife.  Milo Tindle (Law) is his recently-arrived guest, and the man currently sleeping with Andrew’s wife.  At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this film, because it’s basically about nothing for a good ten minutes...until Andrew brings up the subject of his wife, and how Milo has come to discuss a divorce settlement with him.

But instead of a divorce settlement, Andrew comes up with this grand scheme to have Milo “rob” him of precious jewels that are in his bedroom safe.  After almost flubbing this, Milo realizes that Andrew isn’t playing a game anymore -- he’s not going to give his wife a divorce, and the gun he’s pointing at Milo has a live round in it, ready to end his life.  And just when Andrew pulls the trigger--

We cut away to a car speeding toward the manor.  This is Inspector Black of New Scotland Yard, asking Andrew about the murder of Milo Tindle.  Andrew becomes uncomfortable as this inspector starts to gain the upper hand on him--until it’s revealed that Inspector Black and Milo Tindle are the same person.  Now that that’s settled, the movie moves into its third act, much like the play it was based on, to which I can only say this: it was wicked and rather unsettling.

In fact, this whole movie is unsettling.  There’s something vaguely homosexual going on between Andrew and Milo, and it only intensifies in the third act.  Maybe I’m not as open-minded as I should be, but I don’t agree with that lifestyle, and I sure didn’t want to see Jude Law kiss Michael Caine, even if it was slightly off-camera.  Aside from their vague homosexuality, Caine and Law deliver dynamite performances that draw you in and never let you go.  That’s the problem with Sleuth--you know you shouldn’t be watching a movie this bad, but you can’t stop watching it because the actors in it are doing a damn good job at keeping this sinking ship alive.  

The direction by Kenneth Branagh, a director that is described on the back of the DVD case as “critically-acclaimed,” was nothing but static shots accented with blue and purple lighting inside Andrew’s manor.  One shot that stood out to me as being particularly horrible was one spying on the two characters through window blinds.  I couldn’t make out what was going on, and this shot just held and held and held on those freaking blinds.

This is another quibble I have with independent film, especially British “indie” film--some of these movies aren’t about anything worth watching, and this was one of those.  Aside from the stellar acting, poor direction, and the almost non-existent music, the only redeeming quality this film had was the production design, which was by a chap named Tim Harvey.  His design for the remodeled manor was superb, even including a little two-person elevator that rose to Andrew’s bedroom on the second floor.  The lighting by Haris Zambarloukos was also noteworthy.

Unfortunately, lighting and production design do not a movie make, and even when you’ve got star power like Michael Caine and Jude Law, two fine actors in their own rights, the boat is going to sink when the captain relies on the ping-pong close-up to get his point across.  The static, almost clinical way that Kenneth Branagh directed this film just killed any potential it had at being a good movie.

So do yourself a favor--even if you see this one in the bargain bin at two dollars and fifty cents, which was where I found it, let this review be your guide and just stay away from this stinker.  Or, if you actually like bad movies, you can do what my friend Mindy does and make a “Bad Movie Night” out of it with your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or just a friend or two.  

Anything’s better than taking this movie seriously, because it doesn’t even deserve that.

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