Sleuth on Blu-ray disc

The foot's certainly on the other hand for Michael Caine in this remake of the 1972 film version of Anthony Shaffer's stage play.

In that original version, he played the young upstart having an affair with the older writer's (Laurence Olivier) wife. Now, he's the writer and Jude Law plays his old role. It's an interesting role reversal, so to speak, and an interesting update of the original yarn.

Caine is Andrew Wyke, who invites actor Milo Tindle (Law) into his high tech home, ostensibly to work out a deal between them that would satisfy his wounded ego and let Tindle walk away with the woman.

Or that's how it appears. What's actually on his mind is much different, a deliciously diabolical plot that twists Tindle's and the audience's mind. And that's just the beginning. Tindle, understandably annoyed at what Wyke has unleashed upon him, isn't about to take it all lying down.

We won't spoil the plot for you here, just to say that things aren't always what they appear to be in any of the Harold Pinter screenplay's acts, and Kenneth Branagh's film for the most part is full of delicious tension, lovely repartee, and excellent performances from both of the film's stars.

Caine, despite being a fine actor, is no reincarnation of Olivier, but it doesn't matter. He does an excellent job here as the wronged party determined not to go down without a fight. Law matches him line for line and gesture for gesture - this is no larger than life Sky Captain performance but rather a tautly drawn characterization that suits the role and the mood well.

We aren't sure Wyke's reactions in the second section are completely credible; he seems too easy to - oops, we don't want to give it away!

Is this version as good as the 1972 one? Probably not; it's rare for a remake to accomplish such a feat, but it's been so long since we saw the original that it wouldn't be fair to say more than that.

The Blu-ray is very good. The 1080p video is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and colors are bright and vivid. The lighting in Wyke's house is all over the place, and the disc handles the changes well. There's some grain, and there isn't as much depth as on some Blu-rays we've seen, but overall it's a good presentation.

The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround and it's surprisingly alive for a movie that's basically two guys talking for an hour and a half.  Dialogue is clean, which sure comes in handy in such a film, and the surround channels are used well, with excellent ambience and echo that makes you feel almost as if you're in Wyke's mansion.

The dynamics are also first rate, as witnessed by the musical score.   

Extras include  a couple of commentaries, one with director Kenneth Branagh and star Michael Caine that talks about this production, what it was like on the set, and how this version differs from the original.  A second commentary features co-star Jude Law and, while it's interesting, it may have been more interesting if all three of the commentators had appeared in a single track.

"A Game of Cat and House" is your basic "making of" featurettes and there's another quickie that shows you how they did the makeup effects we won't describe lest we spoil the plot for you.  

You also get a selection of Sony Blu-ray trailers that are a good commercial for the format.

Sleuth, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
87 min. 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Michael Caine, Jude Law
Written by Harold Pinter, Directed by Kenneth Branagh

HitmanHitman, the Unrated Digital Copy Special Edition on Blu-ray disc

Knock us over with a feather!

We went into this not expecting much. We knew Hitman was based on a computer/video game (actually a series of games), one we'd never heard of, nor had we heard of the movie before we got the press release.  So we went in looking more for an interesting Blu-ray we could use to show off the system than actually expecting a decent flick.

So much for prejudice (or cynicism). Hitman is actually a very enjoyable action flick - hard to follow at times, but never boring or stupid.

And who'd have thought the most decent, honorable and sympathetic character would turn out to be a cold blooded murderer for hire?

That murderer for hire is Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), raised from childhood to be a Hitman and like his ilk, sent around the world with shaved, bar coded head to do whatever offing is offered, though he does appear to have a choice of what he accepts.

Here, he's sent to Russia to off its corrupt president (hey, this may be a documentary!) but instead finds himself caught up in some heavy duty political intrigue that puts him against the Russians, Interpol and even some of his own compatriots.

And he's a Hitman with a soul, as he befriends a woman (Olga Kurylenko) who's also the target of the Russians and guides her through the mayhem safely, becoming in effect her guardian angel.

Dougray Scott co-stars as Mike Whittier, an Interpol investigator obsessed with capturing him - to the extent that he risks ruining his career and sparking at least one international incident.

The movie isn't particularly deep, and in many ways it's quite derivative, but it's full of style and action and as such provides a decent hour and a half in the home theater. It's also a good commercial for Audi, if you like such things. And we do.

The Blu-ray disc is very good and get this: a second disc contains a digital copy of the movie that you can download to your computer or portable media player (the latter of which can let you watch the movie on a screen small enough to let you squint at it). So far as we know this is a rare feature, but if it catches on it could herald a trend - and it sure shows customers a little more respect than merely beating them over the head with anti-piracy warnings that make it clear the studios don't give a damn about the rights of the consumers who create their profits in the first place.

Naturally, the standard definition resolution of the digital copy isn't up to Blu-ray standards, but it's probably fine for its intended use. We downloaded it to our PC and ran it in Windows Media Player and it worked fine, though it also made us want to go downstairs and fire up the 106 inch Da-Lite screen/PS3 combo again. Oh, and it didn't have chapter stops.

The Blu-ray's picture is presented in 1080p at the 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it's very good. There's some noise in places (too much for our liking), and we'd have liked more depth, but overall it's sharp and colorful and clean, with very nice blacks.  Not a reference disc, perhaps, but a good one nonetheless.

A movie like this, with lots of ordnance and a variety of intersting hardware, deserves good sound, and the Hitman Blu-ray delivers. The dts HD Master Lossless audio shines on the action scenes, with intense surround channel action and nice use of the low frequency effects channel (just what you want with gunfire whizzing around you, multiple explosions, and metal stuff under various levels of duress).  

Extras include "never-before-seen footage" (though we suspect someone, somewhere, saw it - before it ended up on the cutting room floor), deleted scenes, some behind-the-scenes featurettes, an alternate ending, gag reel and more

Hitman from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
94 min., 1080p (2.35:1), dts HD Master Audio Lossless 5.1 surround
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko
Written by Skip Woods, directed by Xavier Gens

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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