Review by C.J. Bunce
Director and actor Kenneth Branagh has built a movie franchise out of Agatha Christie novels like no one before, but his latest tops them all. In fact Branagh’s direction and performance are up there with his Academy Award-winning work in Henry V. Branagh just keeps getting better and better. In his next Christie adaptation, Branagh changes up everything including genre. For A Haunting in Venice he mined the more obscure corners of Christie’s catalog–a 1969 story called Hallowe’en Party– swapped the setting, and got another run at his Old Man Poirot. The result should get the attention of next year’s Oscars for writing, cinematography, and acting for Branagh and co-star Tina Fey in a surprising turn as autobiographical Christie character Ariadne Oliver. A Haunting in Venice is now streaming on Hulu.
A follow-up to last year’s Death on the Nile (reviewed here) and 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express (reviewed here), in A Haunting in Venice Branagh improves everything: better pacing, better mystery, more red herrings, more jumps and starts, and more fun. Crime writer Ariadne Oliver brings the retired Poirot a new case: Help her debunk the best spiritualist anyone has ever seen (played by Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh) in a seance in the dark and ancient canals of Venice on Halloween night 1947. But a darker mystery lies within the location of the seance–a haunted villa owned by Rowena Drake (played by Sherlock Holmes’ Kelly Reilly)–where her daughter drowned just a year before.
The adaptation was written by Michael Green, screenwriter of Logan–the best superhero movie ever, which was nominated for an Oscar. Green weaves in a fast-paced tale filled with subplots, fully fleshed-out suspects, and a smart blend of horror and cozy mystery plotting. Branagh’s go-to camera genius Hans Zambarloukos pulls out all the stops with scene after scene of surprising camera angles, snippets of eye-popping scenery, and all kinds of magical sleight-of-hand with lights and shadow.
Another wise decision was avoiding the large slate of famous actors his last films were known for. Along with Branagh, Fey, Yeoh, and Reilly, Riccardo Scamarcio (The Woman in White, John Wick films) steps in as Branagh’s new majordomo (and bodyguard), Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey) is the family doctor with PTSD, Jude Hill (Belfast) plays his wiser-than-his-years son, with young Ali Khan (6 Underground, Halo) and Emma Laird (Mayor of Kingstown), plus a great parrot.
It’s time for Tina Fey to join Dan Aykroyd, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, and Bill Murray with an Oscar nod.
More than the past Branagh Christie adaptations, this is Branagh playing his own big screen game of Clue/Cluedo, blending in bits and tropes from his entire past catalog of ideas. One of the year’s best films, look for Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting in Venice streaming now on Hulu.