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New York Film Festival: Kenneth Branagh's New Version Of A Stage Stunner


- 45th New York Film Festival

Monday, October 8------ SLEUTH, the stage thriller by Anthony Shaffer that has more twists and turns than an amusement park ride, is coming back to the big screen, 25 years after its original film incarnation. That version, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and released in 1972, was toplined by Sir Laurence Olivier (who received his final Oscar nomination for one of his last substantial film roles) and Michael Caine, who played, respectively, a wealthy novelist whose wife had left him for a much younger rake. This time, in an inspired piece of film casting, Caine takes on the older writer, with Jude Law portraying the young gigolo. This new version, which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, is directed by Kenneth Branagh, the actor/director. The film opens theatrically in the US on October 12th via arthouse powerhouse Sony Pictures Classics.

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The new version of the crime caper has been adapted by iconic playwright and scenarist Harold Pinter, who has contemporized the story to include high tech surveillance gadgets and a sexual undercurrent between the two main leads. The casting of Caine is certainly intriguing, as is the choice of Jude Law, who, in a kind of poetic career symmetry, was recently seen in the updated version of the role that made Caine an international star....the amoral, womanizing ALFIE (as in "what's it all about....Alfie?" ). Pinter's taut screenplay pares the plot to the bone (in a running time just shy of 90 minutes). The plot is rather straightforwardly simple......out-of-work actor and part-time chauffeur Milo Tindle (Law) shows up at the impressive country mansion of wealthy bestselling novelist Andrew Wyke (Caine) to demand that he grant his wife a divorce. Soon the author has an offer to make. He will let Tindle keep his wife if he will do him the favor of breaking into his highly stylized home and stealing some gems worth close to a million pounds, in order to collect the insurance money. This is merely the opening serve in what will become a three-set match.

This being an actorly film, with only two characters, seems right up the alley of its director Kenneth Branagh. The Shakesperian overtones of the story (lust, deceit, murder, revenge) is something that Branagh knows from the first person. He first became noticed when he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at the tender age of 23, taking on starring roles in HENRY V and ROMEO AND JULIET. At the age of 29, he directed and starred in the film version of HENRY V, which costarred his then-wife, Emma Thompson. The film brought him Best Actor and Best Director Oscar nominations. In 1993 he brought Shakespeare to mainstream audiences again with his hit adaptation of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, which featured an all-star cast that included Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves. At 34, he directed and starred as Victor Frankenstein in the big-budget adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN, with Robert De Niro as the monster himself. In 1996 Branagh wrote, directed and starred in a lavish adaptation of HAMLET. For an actor/director whose heart is both on the stage and the soundstage, SLEUTH is a perfect marriage of theatricality and big screen dramatics, giving Michael Caine and Jude Law colorful roles to sink their scenery-chewing teeth into.

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor

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