THE STORY – In post-World War II Venice, Hercule Poirot, now retired and living in his own exile, reluctantly attends a seance. But when one of the guests is murdered, it is up to the former detective to once again uncover the killer.
THE CAST – Kenneth Branagh, Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Dornan, Kelly Reilly, Camille Cotton, Jude Hill & Riccardo Scmarcio
THE TEAM – Kenneth Branagh (Director) & Michael Green (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 104 Minutes
Kenneth Branagh has gone in many various directions over the course of his thirty-plus-year career. Branagh has written screenplays, acted, and directed a wide variety of beloved films. Then, in the 2000s, Branaugh weirdly stepped into the lane of becoming a studio-for-hire filmmaker, most of which didn’t always play well to his strongest sensibilities as an artist. In 2022, the eight-time Academy Award nominee finally won an Oscar for his screenplay for “Belfast.” It seemed that after all the ups and downs of Branagh’s career over the past decade, this was the beginning of a new leaf. From this point on, it seems that Branagh could do whatever he wanted, and there would be more significant support from the studios. So it’s interesting to see Branagh decide to return to something so familiar, such as another adaptation of a famed Agatha Christie novel. “A Haunting in Venice” might not be the best murder mystery out there, but it seems that Branagh has finally found his niche with his third go-around in the series.
“A Haunting in Venice” focuses on everyone’s favorite French detective, Hercule Poirot (played by Branagh), trying to enjoy a quiet life abstaining from murder and despair. He takes leisurely walks along the beautiful scenery of Venice (where he now resides), tends to his garden, and enjoys reading about current events while enjoying pastries. Citizens attempt to persuade Poirot to come back to the life of a sleuth but fail as he constantly refuses. That is until a familiar face steps back into his life, Ariadne Oliver (played by Tina Fey), who asks Poirot to come to a seance led by an infamous psychic, Mrs. Reynolds (played by Michelle Yeoh). Of course, as the night goes on, a murder has conspired, and Poirot must be the one to stop the killer among an entirely new selection of suspicious characters. It must be that Branagh feels so comfortable in this role by now because “A Haunting in Venice” is eons better than his previous Poirot mystery “Death on The Nile.” There’s something oddly charismatic about Branagh’s portrayal of Poirot. Every snark comment and investigative glance is delivered with an assured confidence. You can tell Branagh truly enjoys playing this character and diving into this world. The entire ensemble as a whole might be the best of Branagh’s three Agatha Christie adaptations. Everyone plays to their strengths, with Tina Fey, Jamie Dornan, and Camille Cotton getting the most to work with. There wasn’t a single weak link in the cast compared to some of the previous ensembles in this series. Even with a new rotating assortment of actors to join this sandbox, ultimately, the one constant in this series that keeps everything afloat is Kenneth Branagh himself.
The film’s biggest strength is the way Branagh approaches the source material and drastically changes the tone from the previous two films. “A Haunting in Venice” is ultimately a thriller with many aspects of the horror genre inserted into the film. Throughout “A Haunting In Venice,” eerie voices plague Poirot, jump scares are consistent, and Branaugh attempts to create startling images to get a rise out of the audience. While it doesn’t always work, Branagh’s commitment to this change is more than admirable and shows the filmmaker’s dedication to keeping this series afloat. The cinematography by Harris Zambarloukos is well done and helps create a dreadful mood. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score also helps contribute to Branagh’s direction of constructing a house filled with horrors.
Ultimately, the screenplay is what really drags down the film as a whole. Branagh’s direction tries to give new life to what is, for the most part, a formulaic murder mystery. “A Haunting In Venice” plays out as expected, all the way up to the delivery of Poirot’s overly dramatic monologue revealing the killer’s identity. Also, with these ensemble films, certain characters will ultimately get pushed aside in favor of others. It was very interesting to see what Kelly Reilly was attempting to bring to the film, but the script underserves an actress of her level. The one interesting aspect of the screenplay I wish was focused on more was Poirot’s inner battle with spirituality vs. practicality. It’s touched on at times and could’ve been an interesting lens to get a sense of what constitutes Poirot’s sensibilities and moral obligation as a detective. The film is also a bit awkwardly edited at the beginning of the film. It takes a bit for the film to pick up, but as soon as it gets going, the rest of the film’s runtime is fairly pleasant.
Audiences have been in a weirdly repetitive cycle with Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptations. No matter the quality, we still find ourselves gladly paying the cost of admission if it means Branagh gets to put back on the mustache and speak in his fun French accent. There’s something commendable about a filmmaker who can consistently balance the line between studio filmmaking and passion projects. It seems that whatever Branagh does next, it’s only a matter of time until Hercule Poirot returns to the big screen again, solving another series of murders. Let’s just hope the inevitable sequel will replicate the enjoyability of “A Haunting in Venice,” which delivers the best offering of the series so far.