Friday, June 3, 2016

Sleuth (1972)

Sleuth is, in its own little way, one of the more audacious films of the 70's. Based on a play by Anthony Shaffer (who also wrote the script), it is a diabolically clever thriller (to me though it's actually a nicely dark comedy, hence the tag) starring Laurence Olivier as an eccentric mystery writer and Michael Caine as the working class bloke who's been screwing his wife. They get into a brilliantly nasty cat and mouse game which unfolds at a nicely leisurely pace but never loses the audience for a moment.

Olivier is quite excellent as Andrew Wyke, creating a silly yet oddly menacing man with a massive ego and a superiority complex that let's the audience root for Caine's Milo Tindle in the first half of the film and in the second half, make him oddly sympathetic in a way. He's actually sort of a pathetic man, determined to live on his own rather childish terms-being a sadistic game-obsessed snob who alienates his wife and mistress while writing cheesy detective stories that come off like bad Agatha Christie knock-offs. You still want him to get his comeuppance, though.

Equally solid is Caine who takes the type of character he tended to play in the late 60's and early 70's (somewhat loutish ladies men with silver tongues) and making Milo something a little more deep. There's a dark streak in him which comes out in the second half when it's Milo's time to play mind games with Andrew. I wrote in my review of Get Carter that Caine has a talent at looking downright evil from certain angles and here, he has one or two shots where he flat out looks like the devil himself. The fact that Andrew is such an upper class snob and overall bastard is the only thing keeping you on Milo's side.

The production design is fantastic with Andrew's lavish mansion decked out in true eccentric style with all sorts of odd props, games and other items. It's quite a set that gives the actors a hell of a lot to work with.

At the end of the day, this is an awesome acting duet between two of the best. Olivier shines as an eccentric bastard and Caine is right there, matching him punch for punch. For 138 minutes, they just hold the audience in the palm of their hands. Virtually nothing in this film doesn't work. Even the makeup job Caine sports at one point works, even if you know the film by heart. He's supposed to be disguised as a local cop (a profession Andrew has a heavy disdain for) and I would imagine it played as intended when it first came out and home video was a charming theory. Now, however, its readily obvious that its Caine (the man has too distinct a voice for a fake accent to cover up) but that's just a result of seeing and hearing the guy for the last fifty years.

Sleuth is just brilliant, one of the best in any decade.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.