Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine in Sleuth (1972)

Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier received his eighth Oscar nomination for playing Andrew Wyke, an author who loves games.

Sleuth is a very enjoyable, though a bit stagey (it was based on a play afterall), battle of wits story about an author of detective stories (Andrew Wyke) who invites his wife’s lover Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) over for a “game”.

Olivier is an actor I really like in general, although I understand the issues people have with him. It is true that he can come across as mannered/stiff in some of his roles, especially the older movies, but what I admire most about him is the way he brilliantly characterizes his performances. Be it the haunted Maxim De Winter or Heathcliff, I always find that he brings many layers to his characters that make them interesting.

Andrew Wyke is a departure from the Olivier I am accustomed too, namely because of his over-the-top nature. He is loud, flambuoyant, and he takes great pleasure in the various dolls, costumes and props inside his house. What Olivier succeeds in is the way he sells this bizarre/eccentric side of Wyke. I never once doubted the authenticity of Olivier’s “weirdness”, and he makes it entertaining and slightly unnerving at the same time.

The role allows Olivier to show off his emotional range, and he allows us to peer into the mind of this interesting character. For the first half of the film, Olivier steals the show by incorporating a perfect mixture of menace and humour into Wyke’s game. I was both entertained and disturbed by the way he slowly torments Tindle, and how he gradually reveals a “darker” side to the character beneath the games.

*spoiler alert* When Tindle starts tormenting Wyke in the second half of the film, Olivier manages to sell the character’s desperation and fear. I thought it was fantastic that he managed to make me feel sorry for him, even though he kinda, well, deserved it. But it was until the chilling scene where he plots Tindle’s murder and starts “narrating” his death where I felt like I knew this character inside out. I love how Olivier ties all these different aspects of Wyke’s personality together, right from his refusal to lose/be humiliated and his murderous pride. We get to see how Wyke is not just a character who loves “games”, but a cruel personality who derives great pleasure in humiliating and manipulating others. It’s a fascinating, entertaining and bizarre performance that gets 5/5.

Michael Caine

Michael Caine received his second Oscar nomination Milo Tindle, the young lover of Wyke’s wife who gets tormented by Wyke.

It’s interesting to see Michael Caine play playboys/flambuoyant characters when he was young, especially when you are so accustomed to seeing him play mentors. I think he is a fantastic actor in general, and I really want to discover more about his earlier works.

When two actors are both nominated as best actor in the same film, one will naturally have a tendency to compare both performances against each other. Usually, I will prefer one over another unless it is like, say, Amadeus, where I find both leads to be brilliant (though F. Murray Abraham is still easily my winner).

I wouldn’t say that Tindle is an uninteresting character – on the contrary, I find him extremely interesting to watch as well, and he definitely holds his own as a lead in this film. Still, as compared to Wyke, he is probably the less complex character. In the first half of the film, when Tindle is playing Wyke’s “game” and slowly getting tortured, I found myself more invested in Olivier’s performance. Still, Caine succeeds in portraying Tindle as a very charming, and a bit naive, young man who falls for Wyke’s trap. It’s hard not to feel for him when he gradually realises what is happening to him – the fear in his eyes when he realises that Wyke intends to kill him is fantastic. I was more interested in Olivier’s performance, but I think Caine is great as well.

It is only until the second half of the film where Caine gets his revenge. *spoiler* For me, it was a bit hard to assess the part where he pretends to be the “inspector” as I was already aware of the twist before I watched the film. Objectively speaking, I think Caine excels here in pretending to be trick Wyke into thinking that he really was the inspector. Despite the disguise, Caine’s distinctive voice naturally gave him away but his mannerisms were natural and he sold the character quite well. The real highlight, however, is when the “inspector” reveals himself to be Tindle. Caine successfully portrays the new, cruel, Tindle, and his monologue about how he believed that he was really going to die was great. Unlike Wyke who plays games for fun, Tindle plays this game purely out of revenge. I think it is great that Caine manages to differentiate Tindle’s motives from Wyke – You can sense that Tindle isn’t enjoying his torture of Wyke, he is doing it because of revenge.

Like Olivier, Caine also manages to portray Tindle’s “change” throughout the film excellently. His performance is great on its own, but for me, I just found Olivier’s performance to be more compelling. It could be because I’m naturally biased towards crazy characters, but I found Olivier to be the dominating force in this film, even when he is being humiliated by Caine’s character. Still Michael Caine gives a fantastic performance as Milo Tindle, which naturally gets – 4.5/5.

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