Sleuth (Mankiewicz, 1972)

A lot of smoke and mirrors, Sleuth concerns itself completely with a cat and mouse game played by two Englishmen regarding the affection of an unseen woman. Andrew Wyke, the snooty rich husband (played with debonaire ease by Lawrence Olivier) psychologically combats his wife’s young lover Milo Tindle (the shrmarmy charm of Michael Caine fits nicely) resulting in a humiliating and life-altering set of circumstances. After Andrew initiates a meeting of peace at his large estate in the countryside, Milo soon realizes he’s in for more than just a quick chat. Quite obviously based on the theatrical source material (written by Anthony Shaffer), Sleuth is basically all dialogue, not that the constant witty and mysterious banter isn’t entertaining. Mankiewicz tries hard to show the cinematic side of the story, mainly in the form of some brilliant zooms both in and out of rooms and hallways. But the film gets tiring as one twist leads into another, each character turning the tables on the other quite consistently and in surprisingly predictable ways. The under-riding themes of racism and class eventually become overwhelmed by the presence of the two great actors, killing any subtlety along the way. Sleuth isn’t a great film, but it’s a good example of what used to pass for adult entertainment in Hollywood, a far cry from the visual effects bonanza seen in the last two decades. For that, it’s a must see.

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