Toronto Film Festival Report: "Sleuth", 9 September 2007
By Paul Fischer

The Toronto International Film Festival returns with one of its largest and most diverse programmes to date. As stars come out for the annual event, the most prestigious film festival in North America, the Indie and mainstream worlds collide with a vengeance. Over the next several days, one’s eyes will be bleary seeing a plethora of movies of all genres and budgets, as well as chat to some of the stars and directors behind them. In Part One of my report, here are some films I caught up with already, while tomorrow and the weekend, more to come and stars with whom to chat. Enjoy my potted journey through the frenetic world of this year’s Toronto Film Festival."

First up is "Sleuth", the updated story of a wealthy writer of detective stories, and an aspiring yet out-of-work actor who is having an affair with the writer's wife. The writer's exquisitely modernized Georgian manor becomes the backdrop for a cat and mouse game that pits one creative mind against another.

Kenneth Branagh’s remake of the 1972 cat and mouse thriller is a stylish, hypnotic and flawlessly acted masterpiece. A richly woven work with a deliciously sardonic and witty screenplay by Harold Pinter, in many ways the film redefines the themes of the original by adding heightened tension, a greater deal of malevolence and sexual subtext in the final act that brings out the often complex relationship between these two somewhat misogynistic characters fighting over a woman we never see.

Essentially, as with the original play and film adaptation, this is essentially a two-hander, and for a film like this to work effectively, it requires two essential ingredients: actors who compel us from the outset, and a filmmaker who can make a dialogue-laden thriller visually arresting. The film’s two leads and director Branagh have accomplished both of these, brilliantly and audaciously.

Branagh and his cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, along with production designer Tim Harvey, have created a visual tapestry that consistently and elegantly establishes tone and mood, through evocative use of lightning and the interior of a cold, glass-laden house that establishes Michael Caine’s multi-faceted Andrew Wyke, played by Laurence Olivier in the original. Caine’s Wyke is slightly more sinister and less over-the-top, while Law gives the best performance of his career as the unfortunate Milo.

A comment on male ego and the games we play to impress one another, Branagh’s Sleuth is inventive, stylish, compelling and witty. The film looks extraordinary and allows two generationally different actors give faultless and ingenious performances. The film is very dialogue-heavy and commercial success is limited to audiences seeking original entertainment, but it shows us the power of cinemas in its purity and the spellbinding nature of performance. As with the original, Oscar nominations are a distinct possibility for Caine and Law who are at the peak of their game, in this dazzling and remarkable film.

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