It's odd and almost unheard of for a film to disappear from the ether like "Sleuth" has. It's rare that you can get your hands on a copy of it, so when offered the chance, jump on it...that's just some friendly advice. On a side note: another film that I cannot seem to find is Bruce Conner's 1967 short film "Report"...that has nothing to do with "Sleuth" I just thought you'd like to know.
You can tell when a stage play transcends the medium and becomes a film, it has a certain quality to it. There's something about the theater that remains in the piece. Take "Wait Until Dark" for example...when you see the movie, you notice all the particulars. There are small sets, small casts, and wonderfully written situations. Yet most films made from stage plays have odd endings with no precise conclusion. The best example of this, which coincidentally is the best example of a stage play becoming a film is "Doubt". Flawless acting, wonderful dialogue, and a sense of urgency that never quits.
"Sleuth" is close behind in this regard, because it juggles genres so deftly that it actually wears the viewer out as it speeds along towards a highly climactic, and not completely satisfying ending.
The beginning of the movie is a farce, in fact, much of the whole film feels like a puppet show which would make sense from the incessant need for close-ups on marionette-like figures scattered around the house.
Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier) is having a nice evening at home, writing his murder mysteries. He's a successful detective novelist with a superiority complex...and he loves games. He has summoned Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) to his house in the hopes of shedding light on a certain issue.
Formatlies are exchanged and pleasantries are said, drinks are fixed, and then the bombshell is dropped—"You want to marry my wife!" It's not exactly a question as it is a statement and a nicely disguised accusation. Yes, Milo is the lover of Wyke's wife; but he's come to the house to see what the writer has to say about the situation. Surprisingly, the man seems quite okay with Milo whisking his wife away for the rest of his life, you see, the two had grow a bit apart over the years. Wyke suspects that his wife may have married him simply for his money—what a grotesque thought!
Yet the more cunning and sneaky of the two of them, Wyke is not about to let Milo simply take his wife away from him without a little bargaining.
Another bombshell—Wyke asks Milo to break into his house and steal his wife's jewelry. To what end? Milo will get the jewels which he can exchange for cash and Wyke will get the insurance money. Everyone wins! Wyke is rid of his unloving wife and both the parties have cash in hand...what's not to like?
Yet there's an evil to the film, an underlying suspicion that we all have of Wyke's true intentions, here is where the film takes a rather nasty turn...somewhat reminiscent to the charades seen in "Vertigo". This evil reveals its ugly head as the night wears on and soon we are fully entrenched in a psycho-drama that becomes screamy really quickly.
But that's the beauty of the stage-film. That's the risk you take, will it work or not? With a film like "Carnage" it doesn't really work, but it works tremendously well with "Sleuth".
The film is held upright by two jaw-dropping performance by Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier (they both lost to Marlon Brando for "The Godfather" which is classic, but come on!) Olivier dances around on the balls of his feet and expels all his energy early, his transformation is deep and disturbing. Vice versa is true for Michael Caine.
The music is happy, the film is disturbing and challenging, and the accomplishment is great.
If there has ever been such a fun movie to see while still feeling winded by the end, it's "Sleuth".
Posted by Micah Jones