Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Sleuth 2007

Not much time to write. I have to get to bed. I’m up early in the morning to attend an interview for the job of host on the new series 'Eye of the Storm 2: Mild and Slightly Damp'.

Given that I've only got a few minutes to write this, I should explain the deep furrow on my brow. It wasn’t there three hours ago and I hope sleep will erase it. Tonight I had the misfortune of sitting through a remake of one of my favourite films. Kenneth Branagh’s Sleuth is as enjoyable as having a mallet swung at your kneecaps by a malicious dwarf. It left me hobbling for an explanation as to how it could have all gone so wrong.

Michael Caine is just about my favourite actor. Even when he went through a period of making any old rubbish during the eighties, I never lost my faith in him. He could still do great work. His films include some of I'd take to my desert island: the Harry Palmer films, Hannah and Her Sisters, Get Carter, The Man Who Would Be King… And even here, in Sleuth 2007, he does well playing the Laurence Olivier role. Yet he is let down by nearly every aspect of this disappointing production. Jude Law plays Caine’s old role and proves that he’s not the new Caine. The small details of casting a film really do matter. For instance, if you know the original Sleuth, you’d assume that the Milo Tindle role would be given to an actor who can sustain a regional accent. Law’s accent began in Devon, jumped into Yorkshire, skirted around Lancashire, and finally settling down somewhere in the East End. As for the script, by Harold Pinter, it had moments of brilliance but was undermined by a third act that deviated from the original and was consequently muddled, ineffective, and, at times, tedious. I don't think it was Pinter's fault. I'd like to blame on the director.

Branagh is not a subtle director. He may be comfortable when staging Shakespeare but I tend to think that it would take a director of staggering incompetence to make a hash of that. When it comes to bringing his own flair to an original project, Branagh too often fails. His film version of ‘Frankenstein’ remains one of the very few films I’ve walked out of, midway through (actually, I ran), and demanded my money back from the ticket office.

Here, he replaces the theatrical vibrancy of the original with bleak technology that rarely fits the scene or the script. The sets are minimal, filmed under blue lights that ensure that the film has a different feel to the warmth evoked by the old country house. Shaffer’s screenplay was dark and comic, occasionally frivolous, often sardonic, and questioning the nature of the mystery genre. Pinter’s is sharp, edgy, confused, sometimes rambling, and ultimately disappointing.

Anthony Shaffer wrote at least three great movies: Frenzy, The Wicker Man, and Sleuth. I would hope that Branagh doesn’t think of trying his hand at ‘Frenzy’, the only one of the three yet to have been remade. If he’s no Joseph L. Mankiewicz, then he’s certainly no Hitchcock.

You see what this has done to me? If tomorrow's interview goes poorly, I'll blame only one man.

And it won't be Michael Caine.


Lola said...

Good luck with your interview - if you don't get it I think you might be a cert for the film critic post at the Leamington Observer. I'll put in a word for you.

Richard Madeley said...

I'm be very grateful for that, Lola. It's my dream to write film reviews and Leamington Observer is my kind of newspaper. Now what are they paying per word and when can I start?

Lola said...

You know, I haven't a clue about remuneration for sophisticated journalism such as that appearing weekly in our local free paper. It's an aspect of life in the Midlands that I haven't yet explored - disc golf is another, although I'm told we're famous for it.

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