Sleuth (1972) – Probably My Favourite Film

Where to begin?

Before 1972, there was not a film like this. Now that it’s 2011, there is not another film like this. Sleuth is unique.

Some big guns were hired to make this film, as Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine took on the two principal roles of Andrew Wyke and Milo Tindle, two men locked in a battle of wits. While behind the camera director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and writer Anthony Shaffer take on the difficult task of turning a play, Sleuth also by Shaffer, into a successful feature film.

I don’t want to summarize the plot, because I don’t want to ruin the film and I also don’t want to comprehensively review it. I don’t find it very enjoyable to pick apart a creative work, unless of course it really deserves it. However, I will briefly say why I am so smitten by Sleuth.

There is mystery at every turn and the viewer never knows what to expect. Also, the dialogue is so rich and varied that even though I have watched the film over ten times, I am still noticing funny and significant pieces of dialogue that I missed during my other viewings.

This is a thinking person’s film. Hails of bullets and chase scenes are replaced by a rapier-like battle of wits and the uncomfortable silences experienced by chess players as one of their most important pieces is placed in jeopardy. That is to say, there is no shortage of excitement in Sleuth, it just takes on a different form that is not very commonplace in Hollywood films.

If you can’t fall asleep at night unless you can hear Matt Damon as Jason Bourne playing in the background or if you’ve called Tom Cruise’s agent a few dozen times to try to secure Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol premiere tickets, then maybe Sleuth isn’t for you. If you don’t fit this description, then check it out.

I doubt you will be disappointed.

BEWARE: There was a remake of Sleuth in 2007, I couldn’t get through the movie. Leonard Maltin called it “unbelievably bad” and he had called the original “A tour-de-force. Delicious from start to finish!” If you are still intent on watching the remake, please do yourself a favour and watch the original first.

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