"You mock the creation of my life"
This psychological romp of 1972 is clearly manipulated from the stage to fit the screen. The "huge" cast of two actors (Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine --- Olivier really hamming it up for a stage performance, his expressions boisterous and seldom hinting at any subtleness) is another instant giveaway that we're entering a 'talky' flick.
Because of this genre of one-setting mind games, the going is slow... particularly slow in this case.
The tricks don't really start popping until 100 minutes into the presentation. We expected tricks, and finally, at the commencement of the third act, we're generously given the triple and quadruple layered conventions of lies. It's a darn good time by that point. We watch as the two men inevitably switch roles from moment to moment, each one sniffing out scenarios in which they can proclaim themselves as king of the mountain. Again, this is all fine and dandy, but what it lacks, its malnourishment, leads to its dramatic starvation.
When both sides play dirty to the level that these thespians indeed do, I find myself extracted from the conflict at hand. I stop participating, and instead simply observe in the same manner I may observe a classic artwork. The great novel will forever be an evolved form of artistic expression from the mere painting because it invokes a communal experience that a painting has not the ability to conjure. The great films of the world do the same. Sleuth becomes so concerned with raising the stakes for its pantomimes, that it forgets to devise a format in which to cause the audience to panic and involve themselves.
"Remember... be sure and tell them... it was only a bloody game."
There are many dolls and mannequins in this one mansion world of Sleuth. I found myself by story's end at one with the dolls -- idly laughing and watching the silly humans bounce around in their confined spaces, content just to watch from some remote world.