The star of “A Haunting in Venice,” the newest Agatha Christie adaptation to earn a large launch, isn’t actor-director Kenneth Branagh, regardless of the scene-filling curves and twitches his signature Hercule Poirot ‘stache. It’s the setting itself that runs away with the film.
That is each blessing and curse whenever you shoot a movie within the Floating Metropolis; its singular magnificence all however overwhelms the quotidian human drama taking place inside it. David Lean’s “Summertime,” from 1955, is a terrific film, however I keep in mind Katharine Hepburn’s romantic adventures far lower than its Venetian travelogue in full flower.
So it’s with “A Haunting in Venice,” whose most memorable photographs represent the film’s opening third, earlier than it turns into all too housebound. It’s Halloween evening in 1947, and revelers in cloaks and masks parade down the canals in ghostly gondolas, the mist enveloping the environment, thinning the veil. The bustle is thrilling, regardless of and due to the hazard pulsating by way of the streets and waterways.
As an image-maker and vibe creator, Branagh is a cost-effective, calculated craftsman, attaining every thing he wants and nothing extra from the candlelight and gothic shadowplay of Haris Zambarlouokos’ cinematography. Branagh and his D.P. uncover the form of a serpent within the undulations of a fallen chandelier. Insert pictures of bells tolling and a taxidermied owl casting judgment from inside its bell jar contribute to the eerie atmosphere.
However the story? For all of its lavish and site-specific particulars, it’s in the end a routine style train. Ariadne Oliver, a thriller author and Agathe Christie on-page avatar gamely portrayed by Tina Fey, approaches the retired Poirot with a tasty new case: Be a part of her for a séance following a Halloween get together in a historic palazzo, and debunk the medium (Michelle Yeoh) main the ceremony. Seduced by the thought of exposing a charlatan, Poirot wearily agrees, solely to seek out himself immersed in a recent double-murder case in a haunted home on a stormy evening, the place in true Christie trend everyone seems to be a suspect and nobody can depart.
“A Haunting in Venice” could seem a reduction to viewers weaned on the most-watched detective tales of the previous couple of years, “Knives Out” and its sequel, with their too-cute postmodern cheek. Branagh is a classicist by comparability; he’s not out to remix or reimagine a homicide thriller in a haunted home however to revive an outdated custom. For all its soar scares and different supernatural parts, “A Haunting in Venice” owes a lot to sturdy whodunits like “Clue.”
The issue—along with a tempo that drags in components—is that, after its preliminary burst of Venetian effervescence and moonlit grandeur, the film is all enterprise. Poirot, thrown off steadiness by phenomena he can’t clarify, could wrestle with private questions of perception in his rigidly scientific method, however this patina of character depth obscures the truth that no one within the film has something like a wealthy internal life. In contrast to a very deep and genre-bending tackle the big-screen thriller, like “Gosford Park,” all people feels tokenized and pigeonholed, and in consequence we don’t notably care about anyone or, in the end, who achieved it. When the key is lastly revealed, I might really feel a collective shrug ripple by way of the viewers at this week’s press screening. Poirot merely did his job, and Branagh did his.
“A Haunting in Venice” opens Friday, Sept. 15 at most space theaters.
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