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Sleuth (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/11/2008

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/9/2008

A package arrives on my doorstep. I open it. It's Sleuth on DVD. Are you kidding me? DVDSleuth reviewing Sleuth on DVD? What a coup! It's a no-brainer! The Google searches will go through the roof! Having now seen the film, I shouldn't have gotten so excited.

Sleuth opens with Milo Tindle (Jude Law) arriving at the home of Andre Wyke (Michael Caine). Crime novelist Wyke lives in a sprawling mansion in the English countryside. The outside of the mansion has the look of a classic dwelling, but the interior is cold, sleek, and modern. Milo is having an affair with Wyke's estranged wife, and has come to ask Wyke to grant her a divorce. Given the situation, Wyke is quite civil to Tindle and, instead of blowing up, or answering the question directly, he tells Milo that he has a plan. Wyke reports that he has a very expensive necklace which he would like for Milo to steal. He states that if Milo steals and sells the necklace, he'll be able to afford the tastes of Wyke's wife. Milo is surprised and taken aback by the man's demeanor and this offer. Can Wyke be trusted? Why would he be so cordial to the man who has stolen his wife? From this point, a series of mind-games begins between the two rivals and the stakes become more and more dangerous.

Sleuth is based on a play by Anthony Shaffer (who wrote the film The Wicker Man) which was previously made into a film in 1972, where Laurence Olivier played Wyke and Michael Caine played Tindol. This updated version was adapted by screenwriter Harold Pinter and directed by Kenneth Branagh, whose Dead Again is one of my favorite movies. There's no doubt, this is a great pedigree. We have Caine playing the older role in a film which he originally made 35 years ago. Despite his off-screen tabloid antics, Jude Law is a solid actor. And while his reputation as a director may not be what it once was, Kenneth Branagh is still a very talented man.

The film deftly combines the language of the play with a very nice blend of modern filmmaking. I've never seen the play or the original film, but I could clearly hear the combination of Shaffer's original play with Pinter's up-to-date take on the verbiage. The ultra-modern and cold look of the house provides a nearly blank slate for Branagh to stage the action. The film is equipped with surveillance cameras and monitors, and Branagh cuts between the "movie" and various shots of the monitors. As the film is essentially the play on some lavish sets, Branagh uses these monitors, along with many creative angles to keep the imagery from being static.

So, with all of the talent involved in Sleuth, why is this such a bland movie? There's no doubt that the movie has a nice look and that Caine and Law give good performances (and appear to be having a great time with their sparring), but there is simply nothing engaging or interesting about what they are saying. Perhaps it's the language in the movie. Again, when listening to the dialogue here, it's very easy to imagine it as a play. At times, the dialogue becomes so thick and "clever" that it becomes tedious. The mind-games which Wyke likes to play often involve changing the subject or asking peculiar questions. This may be an integral part of this character, but it also keeps the story from advancing. The story is supposed to hinge on the plot twists, but again, knowing next to nothing about the play or the original film, I wasn't surprised by anything which happens here. The idea of having a film which contains only two actors is a brave one, but they can only take it so far.

Sleuth wants to be a clever thriller which keeps the audience guessing until the end. Instead, it's a talk film which could use a lot more activity. Everyone involved clearly put a lot of effort into the project, but when a movie with this much talent makes less than $400,000 at the box-office, something has clearly gone wrong. If you want to see Michael Caine in a good movie based on a play, then check out Deathtrap instead.

Sleuth gets all chatty on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The movie takes place in a dimly lit house, which is full of grey and white backgrounds. This transfer could have been a nightmare. Instead, the image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain nor any defects from the source material. The image is never overly dark and the balance between the dark and lighter scenes is good. I detected some mild video noise at times, but artifacting issues are kept to a minimum. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a dialogue-driven film, it's important that we understand what the actors are saying and we get that with this track. Certain scenes deliver the necessary stereo or surround effects in a perfunctory manner.

The Sleuth DVD offers a variety of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Kenneth Branagh and Michael Caine. This is a very good commentary, as the two gives us a great deal of information about the movie. Branagh discusses the logistics of making the movie, complete with details about shipping large pieces of art, and Caine talks about the task of remembering so much dialogue. Caine also compares the movie to the original.  Next, we have a commentary with Jude Law. Being a solo chat, this talk is less spontaneous, but Law does provide a good deal of information, including some tidbits which weren't discussed in the first commentary. As he was both actor and producer, Law talks about acting with Caine and some of the issues involved with making the movie. "A Game of Cat & Mouse: Behind the Scenes of Sleuth" (15 minutes) contains comments from Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, Jude Law, and writer Harold Pinter. Law discusses the idea of doing a remake. We then get an overview of the two characters, and how the actors approached their roles. There is then a discussion of Pinter's work, and Branagh as a director, including the look of the film. In "Inspector Black: Make-up Secrets Revealed" (2 minutes) make up artist Eileen Kastner-Delago describes the special effects make up used in the film and we get some behind-the-scenes shots of the process.

After doing some detective work, I learned that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is also brining Sleuth to Blu-ray Disc. While this isn't exactly a movie which cries out for the Blu treatment, it offers a nice technical package. The film has again been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the disc offers an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 23 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing essentially no grain and no defects from the source material. This is certainly near-reference quality video, as the sharpness and the amount of detail are very good. Despite the fact that the movie is dark at times, the image is never overly dark and the colors look very good (note the reds and greens). I spotted no artifacting or video noise. The disc houses a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.6 Mbps. Sleuth is often a quite film, as it's dominated by the dialogue of the two actors, which comes through very clearly here. The score sounds fantastic, and the few instances of loud noises doesn't disappoint. To check the audio quality here, simply go to Chapter 5.

The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are the same as those found on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long