Sunday, October 14, 2007

[DVD] Sleuth (1972)

I Spy

Like 3:10 to Yuma, Sleuth has also been remade this year, and I'm watching the original as part of homework prior to the local release, hopefully, sometime soon. Based on a play by Anthony Shaffer, Sleuth is arguably one of the pioneers of the sleight of hand, and because it originally started off for the stage, the number of sets are limited, but that provides focus for the story, dialogue and characters, which most films of today tend to disregard and disguise their shortcomings with snazzy special effects.

You'll be hard pressed to identify those which provide an equally intriguing story, and having pedigree thespians like Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine in its cast certainly is a bonus. In the remake, Michael Caine's Milo Tindle gets played by Jude Law, and I won't be surprised if along the way more of Caine's movies, if they do get remade, will get played by Law (the first being Alfie), given Law's charmingly good looks and demeanour almost resembling Caine's onscreen persona in his younger days as the quintessential Englishman.

Sleuth tells the story of a wealthy renowned author of detective stories, Andrew Wyke (Olivier) inviting Milo to his ostentatious home, at first to partake in a few drinks, trivial chit chat, and plenty of game playing (his home is rigged with so many tricks and toys), before something more sinister is revealed. Milo happens to be the secret lover of Andrew's wife Marguerite, and what transpires after that, is a psychological battle of wits to see who in actual fact, has the upper hand.

What I liked about the story is its theme of humiliation. When you put someone down, and in the process strip him of all his humanity, fueling him with nothing but despair, making him beg for the right to live, what happens then? Can everything be is all and end all with a simple apology, or to allow some getting back at, if so, where do you draw the line, and would you cross it?

And with a runtime of close to 2.5 hours, you can bet your last dollar that everything is more than meets the eye, and that's where Shaffer's story shines. It yanks the carpet under your feet again and again, without resorting to much trickery or too pretentious a premise that it becomes unbelievable. And despite it being made about 35 years ago, it has definitely withstood the test of time, which is a hallmark of all great stories. Having the acting chops of both Olivier and Caine also proved that you don't need ensemble casts, so long as you have great actors who deliver every time.

Which leads me to suspect that the remake of today might be lacking something. First of all, the runtime clocks in at less than 1.5 hours, which means a lot of stuff would probably have been removed, reduced and summarized. With Law taking over the role of Milo Tindle, Caine has moved to Olivier's role as Wke, and it will be interesting to see his take on that character. The trailers have shown that Sleuth 2007 is quite stylish, but whether or not it retains its charm, and depth of story, remains to be seen.

The Code 1 DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment comes in anamorphic widescreen, but the transfer did seem a little soft, as if converted from a VHS format. Audio is available only in English or French Mono unfortunately, but fair enough, it doesn't really require sense surround. Extras are limited to a Trailer (2:06), a TV Spot (1:01), and text based Talent Bios on Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, and Anthony Shaffer the playwright of the story.

The documentary "A Sleuthian Journey with Anthony Shaffer" (22:50) is the only worthy bit of extras on the DVD, and it recounts, with an actual interview, his journey of creating the story, to the staging of the play, his meeting with peer luminaries such as Agatha Christie, and including the movie's production and release. Worth a watch as you go behind the scenes and listen in on the insights of the late playwright in the creation and completion of his masterpiece.

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