By Fred Topel | Images property of Sony Pictures Classics.
My experience with the original Sleuth is very personal. I remember being in a video store as a kid, there were no new releases in, so I looked for something old I'd never seen before. My dad recommended Sleuth to me, but being a kid, I took Dawn of the Dead. That's where my mind was.
Later in life I felt bad about that. When Netflix first started, they were offering seven rental trials and I of course signed up for one under each e-mail account I had. I decided to finally give Sleuth a chance and my dad was right. It was great. Very compelling two-handed drama with many twists. My father doesn't remember the video store incident but I felt better that I'd finally seen it.
Now about seven years later even from that, I don't remember the minutiae of Sleuth. I recognize some of the bells and whistles in the remake, but only enough to evaluate the broad strokes.
The biggest example is that now they have surveillance to play with. A lot of the film is framed around the security camera system. They use too many shots in the beginning and it is not very compelling to see people walking in and out of a locked off shot but it pays off later.
The rest of the cinematography is equally high concept. It is engaging but it looks contrived, like the only reason that shot exists is because someone set it up for a film. There are lots of reflections and close ups of inanimate objects. When they shoot through the shades, it's really too much but that's only once. It does linger on the still frames at the appropriate moments.
I wouldn't say you need such an update. If you're going to see a two person film and it bothers you that it looks like a play, get over it. The point is the script and the chemistry, and I'd frankly rather just see the play.
The dialogue begins with inane talk about translated books, speaking multiple languages and salami. That seems troubling at first but it quickly moves from the mundane to the real issue. That is portrayed very intensely. I don't think they need to say f*** just because they can, but c*** at least keeps it feeling British. The chemistry is there.
The plot is still compelling, but some things spoil it. Act 2 is completely ruined by a silly voice and miniscule makeup. Act 3 is totally ridiculous and I don’t remember if the original even went there but here it seems so obvious and overacted that you're just waiting for it to finally wrap up.
The new Sleuth is not terrible. If anything, it's too updated and tries too hard. I would recommend all of today's kids take my father's recommendation to see the original. But if they're like me, it will take them a good decade to get around to it.