Remakes are bad news at the best of times, often taking great originals and ruining them purely for the sake of trying to cash in on a new generation of moviegoers. If done right - like perhaps Scorsese's Cape Fear remake - they at least come out watchable, although generally they do not compare to the originals. The biggest reason for this is the simplest one - originality. I know that it has been theorised that every single story can be boiled down to one of a handful of conceptual structures, but remakes are often almost identical - if modernised - versions of the same movie, with the same story, characters, scenes and even sometimes dialogue (Psycho, anyone?). Knowing the ending can also prove particularly disappointing. Sleuth was first and foremost a stage play, centring on two (or arguably three) characters, and all largely taking place within one big house. Although I never saw the play, I watched the first cinematic adaptation as a teenager, and was enthralled by the concept and the clever realisation. I was also surprised that a young Michael Caine fared quite so well holding his own against the established heavyweight thespian, Lawrence Olivier. It was a tour de force battle of wits, a tremendous little movie, focussed on characters, performances and script more than anything else. And - even thirty-five years later - there is absolutely no reason for a remake to have been made.
Milo is an ambitious but struggling young actor who is having an affair with the wife of an old but successful writer, Andrew. Invited to the billionaire's mansion, he is given a proposition to assist in him keeping his newfound love in the manner to which she has grown accustomed. The plan is simple, fake a burglary and steal some expensive jewellery. Andrew gets the cash from the insurers and is rid of his wife, and Milo gets a nest-egg with which to solidify his new relationship with the woman. Seems simple enough, but pretty soon things get twisted up and complicated as Milo finds himself sucked into Andrew's sick world of twisted mind-games and power-play.
Sleuth is almost identical to its predecessor, slightly more slick and polished, and in a tech'ed out mansion this time, but there is little new other than a vulgar expansion on any of the original's homoerotic sentiments. The script is pretty similar, the pattern of plot twists is the same and even the denouement matches up. Frankly, it's a waste of ninety minutes of your life. Why? Because it's only worth considering watching if you haven't seen the original. But if you haven't seen the original then you should not even consider watching this first. So there is no reason for this film to exist.
Speaking of which, nobody should know better how bad an idea this was than Michael Caine himself. At the height of his early success, he was still young when he did this movie, following on from Get Carter and his Harry Palmer trilogy, and it was impressive to see him stand up against Sir Lawrence Olivier. It was a memorable performance, a high point in an interesting career, which has gone from good to bad to good again. Choosing to return to the movie, in the opposite role, is more disrespectful than I would have expected from Caine, even if he was also the same man who once starred in a Steven Seagal movie. He should have known better, because he is certainly no Olivier, and so his role as the ageing Andrew is unconvincing at best. Being the mirror opposite of Olivier was his strength in the original, but here he just does not fit the part, and often lapses into cringe-worthy territory.
And pitting him against Jude Law? That doesn't make any sense. Caine was at the height of his early success, Law has never quite reached that mark, and whilst he can do the young romeo bits ok, the shifting power-balance is implausible - he simply does not have the presence, or the ability to command the screen when necessary. At the end of the day, you leave the movie feeling that another injustice has been done, another unnecessary remake has been sanctioned and our screens are polluted with a creation which only insults the original. The Hitcher, Vanishing Point, Alfie, the list of bad movies is pretty sizeable when compared to the number of remakes that are even comparable to their predecessors, and Sleuth has only added to the ranks of those dire abominations. Kenneth Branagh directed it and he's another one who should have clearly known better! Shiny, slick, full of hi-tech gadgets and pretentious post-millennium twists, this is an insult for all involved and should never have come into existence. Trust me, go see the original, or even catch a live show of the play if you can, if this is your first taste of Sleuth then you might just be put off the otherwise great material for life.