May 25, 2024

A HAUNTING IN VENICE (2023) – Another visual and mental Agatha Christie treat from Branagh

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

Kenneth Branagh returns for a third outing to direct and star as Agatha Christie’s fame Belgium detective Hercule Poirot. Kenneth Branagh has the knack of presenting his movies in beautiful images whether in black and white or in colour. He demonstrates this again here as the movie opens with breathtaking visuals of Venice cleverly shot as it would appear in the story’s era of 1947. These outdoor scenes looked even more spectacular on the majestic IMAX screen.

Unfortunately, most of the plot that follows after the opening act takes place in doors inside an old Italian palazzo and in the dark. Still, one does not venture into an Agatha Christie murder mystery for its visual delights but more for the intellectual fodder that the story would offer. Unlike the predecessors Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, A Haunting in Venice is based on one of Christie’s lesser-known and novels titled Halloween Party and is set in at a more modest scale. In fact, this adaptation strays somewhat from the original material probably to add in more Hollywood twists and turns for the benefit of the big screen. One major change from the original novel is in the story’s location from a small English town to the majestic splendor of Venice. The film has also added an element of the macabre and the supernatural changing the overall tone of the story as befitting to the film’s title. Whether or not these changes improved on the original source or not is probably not for me to comment here as I have not read the book. I suspect they do succeed in improving the original source by providing a more interesting and thrilling background to the story.

The cast this time around seems less star studded with our own Malaysian gal Michelle Yeoh being probably the biggest star here apart from Kenneth Branagh himself. She played a small but important role and effective role as a medium who may or may not be a fraud. Sadly, some of the other cast members appear like they were not particularly well casted. Case in point being Jamie Dornan (of Fifty Shade of Grey) which plays a weak and mentally confused doctor like he was sleepwalking in the role. Tina Fey has an important supporting role as a crime novelist (akin to Christie herself) and friend of Poirot. But we are so used to seeing Tina in comedy acts that we simply can’t take her character seriously here. Thankfully, Kenneth Branagh is here to continue helming the story with his splendid portrayal of detective Poirot.

Overall, I enjoyed the artistic and creative visual elements here and relish in the familiar plot and flow of a typical Agatha Christie movie no matter how silly everything really is. Apart from shortcomings of some of the cast members, and a middle act that lingered a bit more than it should have, I would say A Haunting In Venice was almost perfect. For me, it sits somewhere in the middle of the three Kenneth Branagh Hercule Poirot movies. I look forward to more adaptation from Branagh.

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