A Haunting in Venice

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The Hercule Poirot films starring Kenneth Branagh’s are all excellent, but “A Haunting in Venice” is the greatest. The way Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green dissect and recreate the basic material (Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party) to create a persistently brilliant, aesthetically complex “old” movie that utilizes the most up-to-date technology makes it one of Branagh’s greatest overall.

The film is laced with hints of supernatural activity, most of the action takes place during a powerful thunderstorm, and the violence pushes the PG-13 rating to its breaking point. It is primarily set in a palazzo that seems as enormous as Xanadu or Castle Elsinore (it’s a blend of real Venice locations, London soundstages, and visual effects).

It’s entertaining with a sinister undertone; picture a horrifying gothic cousin of “Clue” or of something like Branagh’s own “Dead Again,” which focused on previous lives. However, “A Haunting in Venice” is also an empathic picture of the death-haunted mentality of those from Branagh’s parents’ age who survived World War II with psychic wounds and wondered what had been won. This is in addition to the predictable twists and gory murders.

The 1969 publication of Christie’s first book, which was set in Woodleigh Common, England, at the time, was a success. The story is relocated to Venice, the timeline is set more than 20 years earlier, an international cast of characters, many of whom are British expats, and only a few elements are kept, such as the recent violent death of a young girl and the implied presence of an Agatha Christie-like crime novelist named Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), who claims responsibility for Poirot’s reputation by making him a character in her writing. Poirot is located by Aridane in a Venice apartment, where he has apparently retired from detective work and is going through an existential crisis (though he would never talk about it unless asked).

He appears committed to living alone, which is distinct from loneliness. He informs Ariadne that he is friendless and doesn’t require any.

As a result of Ariadne’s declining sales, she attempts to re-engage Poirot in the investigation by pressuring him to attend a Halloween Night seance at the aforementioned residence. The medium is a celebrity in her own right: Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), whose persona is modeled after the dubious young child who falsely claims to have seen a murder in the original Christie tale. Reynolds hopes to find out who committed the murder by speaking with Alicia Drake (Rowan Robinson), the teenaged daughter of the palazzo’s owner and former opera diva Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly).

Of course, there are a lot of other people gathered inside the palazzo. All are made suspects in Alicia’s slaying as well as the cover-up killings that follow in these kinds of stories. Poirot declares that nobody can leave the palazzo until he has solved the mystery and locks himself and the rest of the group inside. The list of potential characters also includes Alicia’s ex-boyfriend Maxime Gerard (Kyle Allen), Rowena’s housekeeper Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin), Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan), a wartime surgeon who suffers from severe PTSD, Leopold (Ferrier’s precocious son), who is 12 going on 40 and asks unsettling questions, and Mrs. Reynolds’ assistants Desdemona

To reveal too much of the remaining plot would be unsportsmanlike. Reading the book won’t reveal any significant plot points because, more so than in Branagh’s earlier Poirot movies, the relationship between source and adaptation is similar to the later James Bond movies, which may borrow a title, a few character names and locations, and one or two ideas but invent everything else. Green, who also recently penned “Death on the Nile,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and a significant portion of the television series “American Gods,” is a consistently superb screenwriter of original stories that are influenced by classic material. Both commerce and art are considered simultaneously in his work. He frequently reminds viewers who are inspired by nostalgia in the “intellectual property” period of why they enjoy certain things.

At the same time, he tries to change the tone or focus from what people probably expected and incorporates intriguing new aspects. (The prologue to Green’s paperback adaptation of Christie’s novel for the film begins with him admitting to killing “the book you are holding.”)

As a result, this Poirot mystery fits well with the popular culture created in Allied nations after World War II. The Best Years of Our Lives, “The Third Man,” “The Fallen Idol,” and mid-career Welles films like “Touch of Evil” and “The Trial,” to name just a few classics that Branagh seems keenly aware of, were not just absorbing, beautifully crafted entertainments but illustrations of a pervasive collective feeling of moral exhaustion and soiled idealism—the result of living through a six-year period that showcased previously unimag

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