Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews A Haunting in Venice

Josh Reviews A Haunting in Venice

A Haunting in Venice is the third Hercule Poirot film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also plays the title role, following 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express and 2022’s Death on the Nile The film is adapted from the Agatha Christie novel Hallowe’en Party.  In Venice in 1947, Hercule Poirot is hiding from the world, having retired as a detective.  But his friend, the writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), convinces him to attend a seance so he can help her debunk it.  The seance is at the home of famous singer Rowena Drake, whose daughter Alicia apparently went mad and committed suicide by jumping off her balcony into the water.  But immediately after the seance, the medium is murdered, and Poirot reluctantly finds himself back at the center of another murder mystery.

I was surprised to see another Kenneth Branagh Poirot film so soon after Death on the Nile (which, delayed by the pandemic, wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, making significantly less money than Murder on the Orient Express had several years earlier).  But I was happy to see another film in this series.  I wasn’t blown away by either Murder on the Orient Express nor by Death on the Nile, but I found them both to be enjoyably diverting yarns.  I like Mr. Branagh in the title role, and there’s nothing broken about the formula of assembling a fun ensemble of movie stars in an exotic location for a twisty murder mystery.

Overall I enjoyed watching A Haunting in Venice.  As with the previous two films, I don’t think there’s anything particularly groundbreaking to be found here, but it’s an interesting story that is competently told.

I respect Mr. Branagh’s efforts to make A Haunting in Venice feel different, tonally, than the first two films.  He’s set out to make a tenser, creepier film.  The early going is certainly unsettling, with bizarre camera angles and distorted lenses, and choppy editing that doesn’t allow the audience to feel comfortable.  Some of the choices didn’t work for me (starting the film with Poirot waking up from a scary dream felt silly and too on the nose for me), but I like the ambition.  I thought the central seance sequence was satisfyingly scary.

So bonus points to Mr. Branagh and his team for their approach.  However, if there’s one area where this film doesn’t live up to its predecessors, it’s with its cast.  I wonder why they didn’t cast more well-known names in most of these roles?  (Was this a consequence of the film’s budget, which was reportedly significantly lower than the first two films?)  Tina Fey is the only big star in the film, besides Mr. Branagh.  Michelle Yeoh comes in second (coming off her Oscar win for Everything Everywhere All at Once), though I wish she was in more of the film.  There are a few other faces one might recognize, such as Jamie Dorman (most known for the Fifty Shades of Grey films) and Kelly Reilly (I didn’t know her name, but I recognized her from the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films and the second season of True Detective).  But this is hardly the star-studded cast of the first two films.  I can’t help but wondering whether a more high-profile cast might not have elevated this story.

Nevertheless, Mr. Branagh has assembled a competent cast.  Tina Fey is, as always, a joy to watch on-screen.  There’s nothing inherently funny about her character, but Ms. Fey brings such a fun sparkle and energy to her performance.  She brings the film to life whenever she’s on screen.  I like the pairing of this no-nonsense American with the fussy, fastidious Poirot.  (If anything, I wish the film had leaned into that even further and spent more time with the two of them partnered up together, as they are for a stretch in the middle of the story.)  Michelle Yeoh is, as always, wonderful on-screen.  I loved her performance here as the mysterious medium Joyce Reynolds.  Ms. Yeoh is also a great counterpoint for Detective Poirot — I loved the scenes in which the two of them sparred.  Again, I wish there was even more of that (and of the great Ms. Yeoh in general) in the film!

Jamie Dornan dials down his Fifty Shades sexiness to play the endearingly timid, damaged Doctor Leslie Ferrier.  Kyle Allen (who appeared in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story) is solid as Maxime Gerard, the ex-fiance of the late Alicia Drake.  Kelly Reilly is compelling as Alicia’s grieving mother, and Camille Cotin (House of Gucci) is a strong presence as the superstitious ex-nun housekeeper.  Filling out the cast, and doing solid work all around, are: Jude Hill as the young Leopold, Dr. Ferrier’s son; Emma Laird and Ali Khan as Reynolds’ assistants Desdemona and Nicholas; and Riccardo Scamarcio as Poirot’s bodyguard Vitale.

If you’ve enjoyed the first two Poirot films starring and directed by Mr. Branagh, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one as well.  I’d be happy for this series to continue.

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