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Craig's Movie Club
Movie Recommendations

Spotlight on: Joseph Mankiewicz's Sleuth
Alternate: Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run



Sleuth Joseph Mankiewicz's Sleuth

Sleuth is one of my favorite movies of all time. There, I said it. Now on with the recommendation. No, wait, I've seen it at least a dozen times. Okay, now I'm done.

Laurence Olivier has been called the greatest actor of his generation enough times for it to stick. Michael Caine, I think, is just as fine an actor. He lacks notice simply because his style is a more natural one. Olivier's tendency to overdo it occasionally has gained him the attention, and Caine could easily be overlooked as a class act, especially during the mid-1980s when he seemed to be in every film released. 1

In Sleuth, they're both the stars, and they give equal performances (they would have to or one would blow the other away). In fact, other than a police detective who is only onscreen for a few minutes, theirs are the only characters in the film, allowing Olivier and Caine to play entirely off each other. It is really a sight to watch such terrific actors at work.

Sleuth's plot is simple on the surface, but there are several twists that add to the fun. Andrew (Olivier) asks Milo (Caine) over to his secluded mansion to discuss an arrangement in a gentlemanly manner. I can't really say much more, suffice it to say that there is a battle of wits between the two. But who wins?

We are shown early on in Sleuth that Andrew is a man who loves to play games. He is first seen writing (rather, dictating) a mystery novel while in the center of a maze only he can navigate. His home is filled with many gadgets, including a modified chess game of presumably impenetrable proportions and a purely white jigsaw puzzle. Milo has no idea what he is up against when he is invited for their little chat.

You see, Andrew has discovered that his wife Marguerite is in love with Milo, and he has created a plan where they will both benefit. Milo will steal Andrew's jewels, fence them, then go away and live with Marguerite while Andrew collects the insurance. It's just another game.

Of course, things can never be that simple....

(Note: At the Academy Awards for that year, both Olivier and Caine were nominated for lead actor awards. Unfortunately, 1972 was also the year that saw The Godfather released and Sacheen Littlefeather won instead.)


1In the movie PCU, a student's thesis involves proving that there is a film starring either Gene Hackman or Michael Caine on television somewhere 24 hours a day. He spends all his screen time in front of the television, finally leaving satisfied when he discovers a film that stars both.


Run Lola Run DVD Cover Alternate Recommendation: Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run

Kinetic! That's really the only word for Run Lola Run. Energy, action, running.

I bought the DVD because I had loved it when it first came out on video (foreign films don't usually make it to my neck of the woods). I loved it again when I watched it after I bought it. Besides Lola being attractive enough to hold your attention while doing all that running, the story never lets you rest.

If you haven't seen it, Lola's (Franka Potente) boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), has just lost a bag of money meant for his mobster boss (the dope left it on the subway) so he needs 100,000 marks in the next twenty minutes. It is up to Lola to find the money and get it to him. If she doesn't arrive by noon, he is going to rob the nearby grocery store (which supposedly makes 200,000 marks a day, and so would have 100,000 by noon.)

She mentally goes through everyone she knows and decides on her father, who works at a bank. Her moped was stolen recently, so that's out. (She doesn't bother to ask anyone to borrow a car, but that's a small gripe.)

So she runs.

And what a runner she is! (One wonders how much training she did for this film as she seems barely to break a sweat. She simply shines.)

The story takes the path that, depending on luck, time, and actions, each decision you make leads to a different result. We are shown three possible outcomes of Lola's trip to her father's bank and her subsequent run to meet Manni. All three hinge on small changes in how she gets down the stairs of her apartment building. Everything from that point on is different in small enough ways to greatly affect the end result. Changes are even evident in how the action affects the people whose paths she crosses (we know because we see successions of snapshots depicting their lives after this incident).

All the while, there is this terrific electronic music playing in the background, not so that it's annoying, but enough to add to the feel of speed that the film has. (I also bought the soundtrack and keep it in my CD travel case.)

(People like to point out the similarities between this film and The 400 Blows and the adaptation of The Tin Drum, but those are merely surface connections and are not a major part of the plot.)

All in all, a superb film and one that I think anyone interested in avant-garde cinema with a high energy level would enjoy.


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