It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
When "Sleuth" premiered last month at the Toronto Film Festival, a great many critics (including me), writing in advance about it sight unseen, described it as a "remake" of the 1972 film based on Anthony Shaffer's stage play. The festival program was more accurate, describing it as "a fascinating transformation." So it is. Do not make the mistake of thinking that if you've seen the earlier play or film, you've got this one covered. Yes, one of the plot gimmicks is the same, but be honest: If you saw the original, you'd already heard about the gimmick, anyway, hadn't you? Only the London opening night audience possibly experienced it as a surprise.
The story isn't about the gimmick, anyway. It's about the vicious verbal duel that two men perform one edgy night. Andrew Wyke (Michael Caine), a millionaire thriller novelist, receives a very late visitor: Milo Tindle (Jude Law), who is having an affair with Wyke's wife. The weathered country house exterior of his country estate is belied by the interior, an alarming display of metal, glass, crystal, modernist sculpture and an advanced spy-cam security system. This is not a house to be lived in, but to be shown through.
It's hard to say which would be more terrifying, the notion that Wyke did the interior design or that his wife did. I vote for the wife. Every real man needs a La-Z-Boy somewhere.
Wyke starts in right at the door, asking Tindle, "Is that your car?" Well, there are only two cars parked in the drive, and since the other is Andrew's, why, yes, it is Milo's. "Your car is smaller than my car," Wyke says. Is this remark juvenile or advanced adult cruelty, a comment so gauche, it is intended as an insult to the listener? We ask questions like that all through the movie, which is based on a new screenplay by Harold Pinter, the Nobel laureate playwright. True, Pinter is now 77, and we know from the journals of his friend Simon Gray that he has been ill, but is the great man now reduced to rewriting old country house mysteries?