VENICE Michael Caine and Jude Law face off in Harold Pinter's rewrite of the 1972 thriller "Sleuth", with Caine starring as an older writer who enters a cat-and-mouse game with his wife's young lover.
More than 30 years ago it was Caine who played the younger role now taken by Law in this two central character movie.
Director Kenneth Branagh and the cast, presenting the film in Venice where it is one of 22 titles in the main competition, said their "Sleuth" was not a simple remake of the original, and credited the script by Nobel laureate Pinter for this.
"I would have certainly never gone into a straight remake. This is a completely different take, Pinter made it different," Caine, who in the first film played alongside Laurence Olivier, told reporters on Thursday.
Law, who is also one of the film's producers, said Pinter had never seen the original film and had reworked the script by reading the award-winning mystery play by Anthony Shaffer on which both movie adaptations are based.
In a reversal of roles, Caine here takes on what had been Olivier's role as Andrew Wyke, an ageing and eccentric crime fiction author who invites his wife's lover, the penniless and charming actor Milo Tindle played by Law, to meet him at home.
Faithful to its theatrical roots, the film is based on the witty dialogue between the two and is set entirely in Wyke's house.
But this time Pinter drastically changed the interior from chintz curtains and flowery cushions to an ultra-modern decor of remotely-controlled doors, internal lifts and omnipresent surveillance cameras adding to a sense of paranoia.
Branagh said his film, which is one hour shorter than the original, focused less on Wyke's character and more on the rivalry between the two men over one woman who is never seen in the movie.
That rivalry at one stage takes on a homosexual overtone, with Caine almost seducing Law.
"I mean, we never carried it that far, but there was that to it. So this is a much more thought-out version rather than a theatrical one," said the 74-year-old, who read a psychological treatise on morbid jealousy to prepare for the role.
The film marks the second time Law, 35, has followed in Caine's footsteps. In 2004 he starred in the remake of "Alfie" made famous by Caine, but the second version was widely seen as a flop.
"From my experience (Alfie) did not quite work out the way I had wanted it to, but you know part of the reason you embark on a creative journey sometimes is to fall flat ... and sometimes the fall leads to a triumph," Law said.
"I think this one has worked and I didn't feel that I was stepping into Michael's shoes because it is such an original new take."
Both his and Caine's performance won early praise by critics at Thursday's press screening on the Lido. Branagh is one of four British directors vying for the top Golden Lion award along with Joe Wright, Ken Loach and Peter Greenaway.