Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New, But Apparently Not Improved

I recently saw a very interesting, though not unique movie. To explain that opening, first a story...

Nearly four decades ago, Anthony Shaffer (brother of Amadeus playwright Peter, and an accomplished playwright himself) wrote a two-man play called Sleuth. It's the tale of an older man whose wife has left him for a younger man. The two men confront one another in the play, each playing twisted games to try and get inside the other's mind. In very short order, the play was made into a film, starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.

Last year, some 35 years later, the film was made again. Michael Caine returned to star in it, this time as the older man. Jude Law took over Caine's role from the original film. Yet another famous playwright, Harold Pinter, worked the original into a new script, and acclaimed actor/director Kenneth Brannagh took on the directing of this new film.

In short, this thing has an indescribably good pedigree.

It is a very enjoyable movie, for the most part. It's not a bad thing that it very much shows its roots as a simple play. But unfortunately, it comes off as a three-act play with a weak and even illogical final act.

The opening and middle parts of this slim 90-minute movie are really exceptional. I probably don't have to tell you that the acting is superb. The story is twisted, the characters compelling, and the machinations of it all excite the mind and get you on the edge of your seat.

But then there's that final act. The characters seem to veer off into silly and unbelievable territory. The sharp edge of the wit dulls. After a few shocking turns during the bulk of the film, the ending comes as little surprise at all. It doesn't piss away all of its goodwill, but it does leave you sadly wondering what might have been.

Yet perhaps I don't have to wonder. There's an original play and film out there to be seen someday. And that film, as it turns out, is regarded by many to be a veritable classic -- critic raves are just strewn about on that film, and it's in the top 200 films at IMDB (if you put weight in such things). Could it be that the flaws I found in this remake were simply introduced in this modernization?

The thing is, I certainly liked enough of this movie to want to seek out the more generally favored versions and see for myself. When I do, I'll be sure to share the results.

In the meantime, you can take my review of the newer incarnation, which is to call a derailed "A" of a movie a B- overall.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How fun it must have been for Caine to play the older man this time around!
I'll certainly give this a shot... if I can see it somewhere. Somehow, it doesn't seen to have crossed into the Great White North.
I'll probably catch it on DVD.