Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s final film, Sleuth, is a film unlike many other films out there. It’s a film adaptation of a play, so you know the writing will be solid, and it is, but what’s unique about Sleuth is its cast. The film’s main two actors are Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, and they are supported by… nobody. The two men essentially headline the film entirely by themselves, carrying all the weight of it on their shoulders alone, and it’s a hefty burden to carry. Thankfully, the two men are Michael Caine and Laurence freaking Olivier, so you know they’ll be able to handle themselves just fine, and then some.
Everything about this film has a second layer to it; the theme is gamesmanship, out-classing the other man in both wit and action, and both men get their chance to shine in this regard throughout the film. I was quite interested in how the film would often cut to seemingly incongruous items in the house, as if to highlight clues or red herrings that may or may not have been there. Olivier pays the character like a cartoon, and it’s a turn I really wasn’t expecting from the consummate Shakespearean actor; Caine, meanwhile, was exactly as I expected him, and even slightly better during some portions of the film I won’t spoil for anyone else.
Being based on a play – nay, directly derived from it, the film is rather long at about 2:20, and unfortunately feels its length, mostly due to the lack of other actors to keep things interesting, and is largely why the film didn’t get a higher rating, but don’t let that discourage you; this is a fine mindbender of a film that always has a curveball to throw at you when the status quo becomes a little too comfortable. I really like films that are like puzzles, where figuring things out is at least half the fun, even if you’ve seen the film before. I don’t know if this will hold up well with repeat viewings, but for my first time through, I got exactly what I wanted out of it.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10