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A Haunting in Venice Provides More Eye Candy than Mystery

"Scary stories make life less scary."

On Agatha Christie's would-have-been 133rd birthday (yesterday), I sat in a mostly empty theater to catch a A Haunting in Venice and see if I could figure out who dunnit.

I'm not sure why so few people showed up for this movie. Maybe it's because it boasts fewer celebrities than the previous installments. Poirot movies have long been an all-star cast event. Also, maybe I'm not the only person who finds this version of Poirot unrecognizable. Still, I promise you, the visuals alone are worth the price of admission.

I cannot say enough good things about Branagh's directing. His use of color, especially, is absolutely masterful. He knows how to fill the palette with enough richness to be enchanting, but also how to limit the colors so we're not overwhelmed. Amateur filmmakers often make the mistake of limiting their colors and washing out the image so that there's nothing to look at. Branagh gets it just right, and the attention to artistic detail makes these Poirot movies a non-stop feast for the eyes.

And while A Haunting in Venice is less of a same star-studded cast than its predecessors, its actors do some of the best work of their careers. Michelle Yeoh is clearly having a blast playing a spooky fortune teller, and Tina Fey really spreads her wings in a role very different to her usual work.

What's this one about? Poirot is pulled out of retirement just in time for spooky season, and he's sunk his teeth into a mystery that pushes him out of the simple, the black and white world where he tries to hide.

While I could talk all day about the movie's completely perfect technical work, I'm sad to say that A Haunting in Venice does not provide a fulfilling mystery.

I counted five "jump" scenes, moments when something loud and fast blared at the screen just to make the audience flinch, and none of them were pertinent to the story. There's countless shots of birds watching rooms and boats settling in canals. After a while I started to wonder if there was even enough story to fill the whole movie with. It felt like a third of my time in the theater was spent watching beautiful establishing shots.

But there's also things we don't get to see. Clues (like footprints, or the time on a clock) that Poirot uses to solve the case but are not shown to the audience. Agatha Christie has a gift for laying out the clues very plainly and daring you to try and figure it out. A Haunting in Venice doesn't let the viewer in on the details, so we just have to wait for Poirot to tell us what happened while we were busy watching birds and boats.

I had a similar complaint about Death on the Nile. It was easy to guess the killers that time, but that's not a big deal. Columbo always shows the murderer right away; the fun part is seeing how it's done. But in Death on the Nile we don't really get to play along, so it's just a series of interviews with famous actors, like watching a very, very old episode of Entertainment Tonight. Similarly, Murder on the Orient Express not only failed to give us enough details to sink our teeth into the case, it significantly altered the ending and the entire theme of the story, not to mention the character of Poirot. Maybe that's why the theater was empty; we've seen this investigation twice already.

My wife has pointed out that these three movies give us a unique progression of Poirot's character. She's right. I have trouble seeing it, because this character just isn't anything like the Poirot I read about in Christie's books, but it's an interesting journey that Poirot has been through. I believe these movies would be more fun if they were not based on the wonderful Hercule Poirot, but simply a character of Branagh's own making. An original detective with original crimes instead of a departing from Poirot's well-established ways.

Final Analysis: Great work behind the camera, but I didn't get to feel like a detective. 3 out of 5 bird eye views.

Adam D. Jones is an author, historian, and undefeated cat wrestler. He's also something of a detective himself, having recently found the source of the bad smell in his car. (Coincidentally, he also found his missing groceries.)


  1. I haven't seen any of Branagh's Poirot films, probably because, to me, Sir David Suchet is Poirot, in much the same way as Jeremy Brett is Sherlock Holmes, full stop. That said, I also haven't bothered watching any Agatha Christie film adaptations since Albert Finney did Poirot in the masterful Murder on the Orient Express back in 1974. I suppose I should watch Branagh's version to see how it compares, but I fear I'll be disappointed. I like Branagh; his Henry V is utterly brilliant, he's fabulous in Conspiracy, and he does a fine job as Kurt Wallander in the BBC productions of those stories. I just have a hard time picturing him as Hercule Poirot. But I suppose I'll have to have a look at some point.

    1. Suchet IS Poirot. Genetic magic, right there. And no one can be Sherlock like Brett. We are in complete agreement!


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