“A Haunting in Venice” is the third adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel with Kenneth Branagh taking on famed detective Hercule Poirot. Unlike “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile,” this offering has a much more Gothic tone and manipulates the original material to a larger extent.
That doesn’t mean the film is bad, it just will make it a little more challenging for the true Christie fans who believe her works are sacred. At least at the heart of the film is a mystery that only a master sleuth can solve before the closing credits.
“A Haunting in Venice” takes place in post-World War II Venice on All Hallows’ Eve. Poirot has decided to end his detective ways and is enjoying a solitude life where he dines on local pastries.
He is lured out of his self-imposed exile by Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fay), an irritating American writer of mystery books that have been based loosely on the exploits of Poirot. She wants him to attend a party where a noted medium, Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), will be conducting a séance. Oliver has become convinced Mrs. Reynolds may have real powers.
What starts as a party turns into murder and Poirot must deal with the possibility that there may be things going on in the house that go outside the logical realm.
Unlike the two previous Christie-based movies, Branagh’s direction moves away from bright lights and beautiful landscapes. He lets his story unfold against a dark and gloomy backdrop of a decaying house where the lighting is designed to create endless pockets of dark.
The combination of Poirot being off kilter for most of the film with the spooky lighting pushes this production more toward a mild horror story than a pure whodunit. It works but just requires a different mindset from the viewer.
Michael Green has taken major liberties with his adaptation of Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party. The most dramatic change is having the story take place in Venice while the original was set in England. Setting the film in Italy is strange in that almost the entire film takes place inside the murder house. It just as easily could have been set in London, Madrid, Bakersfield or Gotham City.
There are some character names that are the same and a very dangerous game of bobbing for apples in both, But, that’s where the literary twains separate.
Green’s story does play fair with the presentation of clues and it is easy to figure out what is happening to Poirot during his investigation. His conclusions do include a couple of obscure elements but nothing that wasn’t presented along the way.
The dialogue comes across a little more stilted but that may be the fault of casting. Branagh continues to be the second-best actor to ever portray Poirot after David Suchet. Second place still translates to solid work.
Where the problems occur is the supporting cast, particularly Fey. The fact she plays the role the same way she has played every character in her career doesn’t allow for her character to blend into the ensemble mix. There are abrupt moments when the story stops for Fay to make a quip.
Kelly Reilly was magnificent on “Yellowstone,” but she never fully captures the grieving mother character. It is a one-note performance that needed to be far more layered.
At least their characters have some form. The males are so uninspired it is difficult to keep track of who is a suspect and who is an ally. The best of the group is Jude Hill who plays a youngster who is so annoyingly precocious he must grow up to be just like Poirot.
As with the change in tone and story, the cast situation is not a major problem. All of it together just puts more work on the audience who has been fed a certain version of Christie movies over the years and now the recipe has changed.
A Haunting in Venice 3
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Tina Fey, Kelly Reilly, Jamie Dornan, Camille Cottin, Jude Hill
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Rated: PG-13 for language, disturbing images, language
Running time: 103 minutes.