Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Good Translation

Some books fail in translation to the screen. The same is true of plays. One notable exception is Anthony Shaffer’s “Sleuth.”

I watched the 2005 film version last night and found it a superb bit of nasty entertainment. This was the remake of the 1972 film and I’m not commenting here on that version which stands on its own. This version’s success is primarily due to the scripting by Harold Pinter and the marvelous performance of Michael Caine and Jude Law. Kenneth Branagh's cinematography deserves a plug, also.

Caine plays the role played by Sir Laurence Olivier in the 1972 film and Law that played by Caine in the previous version.

Whether you agree with Pinter’s politics or not, no one can deny the man was a master wordsmith. He turned out 32 stage plays, 22 screenplays, numerous TV scripts and won the Nobel for literature in 2005.

There’s no denying Caine and Law are among the best of modern performers and both are in top form in this film.

In brief, Caine plays Andrew Wyke, an aging mystery writer, whose wife has left him for a younger man (Law). Law portrays Milo Tindle, a struggling actor and part-time waiter (or is it, hairdresser, as Wyke asserts?). Wyke has invited Tindle to his high-tech country mansion to discuss their situation. Tindle accepts, hoping to convince Wyke to grant his wife a divorce. Wyke is more interested in playing mind games, which become more and more dicier as they proceed.

Caine/Wyke wins the first round. Law/Tindle the second. Like the play, this adaptation is built on three acts, each raising the stakes for the protagionists. The whole is decidedly a dark and nasty bit. But, for my money, worth the price of admission.

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