Kenneth Branagh continues to direct himself as Hercule Poirot in his ongoing project to make Agatha Christie’s classic whodunnits all about him. A Haunting in Venice has less focus on the process and nuances of investigation than its predecessors, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile – and those already felt the need to punctuate the procedural with action, lest the audience get bored – but shows just as much interest in Poirot’s story, at the expense of the suspects’ and victims’. It’s safe to say that these adaptations are not what they could, or should, be.
Branagh enthusiastically uses dramatic angles and camera movement; wonderful to see but for the fact that he does so with little motivation, failing to create with them the effects and mood that he could. The casting disappoints José, who looks to these sorts of films for the stars of yesteryear who fill the ensemble, bringing their histories and personas to their portrayals of the snooty dowagers, nervous accountants and so on; here, no such stars are present. A few current names pepper the cast list, but most of the players that this whodunnit hosts form a who’s who of “who’s that?”
We’re already into diminishing returns with Branagh’s Poirot series, the films increasingly missing the point of their genre – how can the audience play along with the mystery and marvel at the intricacy of its solution when we’re rushed past the details in favour of hearing about the detective’s inner life yet again? Mike found an element of that to like back in Murder on the Orient Express, but even a heart as large and generous as his can find no room for it any more. It’s simply not good enough.