"Sleuth" comes with a good deal of baggage; it was made from the Anthony Shaffer play of thirty years ago, now rewritten for the screen by the Nobel-prizewinner Harold Pinter and directed by Kenneth Branagh, and if you've never seen a Pinter play you should see this one; it's filled with pregnant pauses and obscure meanings of otherwise transparent lines. I happen to like it. Here's what happens: A man drives up to a stunning, modern country house owned by the successful crime novelist Andrew Wyke - played to perfection by Michael Caine. The man is a sometime actor, without money, named Milo Tindle (played by Jude Law), who has been sleeping with Andrew's wife in London, and now would like to find a way for Andrew to give her a divorce, which he refuses to do. (By the way, in the first production of the play, Caine played the Jude Law role.)
The two men dance round and round each other; the house, with its many secret rooms and furnishings and even an elevator, becomes the third character of the play. Wyke says he won't give the divorce, but offers Milo a role to play as an intruder, coming to steal a necklace, bracelet and earring combination, then going to Amsterdam to fence them and earning himself a good deal of money. What happens after that is not for me to reveal.
Like many play-to-screen adaptations, Branagh was stuck with a static location, so he photographs everything from odd angles: the ceiling, the floor, the two men's nostrils; you name it. Because the house was interesting for us to look at, it sometimes works; but we also know that we are still and forever inside it. Caine has a much more interesting role than does Law, but I do believe that that was always the case; certainly he makes a more interesting impression on us. For me, "Sleuth" was an example of a film that time has passed by; too bound by theatre conventions, too narrow in its focus, just a way to let two talented actors loose once again.