Kenneth Branagh’s Ferociously Arty, Vacuous Remake


Kenneth Branagh’s ferociously arty, vacuous remake of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1972 screen version of Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 stage play pares the action down to a slim two-hander in which a famous English writer (Michael Caine) plays cat’s paw with his wife’s lover, a cocky arriviste played by that other Alfie, Jude Law. Handsomely appointed in gleaming glass and other fascist design accessories of the coldhearted super-rich (the writer’s house looks as though it was shot in David Geffen’s mansion, with accessories by Escher), this tiresome rehash seems motivated by little more than the urge to bludgeon us with uppercase Cinema. Surveillance cameras rule, and verbal tennis ensues in clipped micro-clauses made over by screenwriter Harold Pinter, whose gift for terse opacity has rarely translated well onto the big screen. Whatever pleasure can be wrung from Sleuth lies in the black comedy of Caine and Law’s sinuous symbiosis. But Shaffer’s tired bromides about the potency of wealth and cunning, and the supposedly primal struggle of two males more in love with one another than with the woman they seek to possess, remain in Branagh’s hands little more than a pissing contest energized by crude homophobia and misogyny.