Film review: “A Haunting in Venice”

A return to classic film

Published by James Cressman, Date: September 21, 2023
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Poster for
"A Haunting in Venice"

“Tell them Hercule Poirot is on the case,” the famed detective utters when he realizes that a silly séance gone wrong is actually something far more sinister.

Kenneth Branagh returns as Hercule Poirot, the fictional detective created by writer Agatha Christie in “A Haunting in Venice,” based on Christie’s “Hallowe’en Party.” This is Branagh’s third outing in the role, following 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express” and 2022’s “Death on the Nile.”

Poirot, now retired and living a solitary life in Venice, is requested to attend a séance. Things do not seem as they appear. One of the guests is murdered, prompting Poirot out of retirement to uncover the killer.

“A Haunting in Venice” has all the makings of a classic film, to the degree that it almost feels as though it hails from a different era. Branagh, who also serves as the director, does not disappoint in blending old-school Hollywood with modern film.

Branagh’s performance as Poirot is further proof that he is cut from the same cloth as Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Spencer Tracy. Branagh is nowhere to be found, as he completely disappears and Hercule Poirot emerges. The audience finds themselves shifting from watching a film about a detective to watching a detective masterfully navigate an impossible case.

Rounding out the cast, audiences are treated to some great performances, like that of Michelle Yeoh in the role of Mrs. Reynolds the medium who has been invited to lead the séance. Yeoh does not fail to captivate the audience with her commanding presence on screen. It makes one wonder how it took so long for Yeoh to receive her first Academy Award.

The remainder of the cast includes Jamie Dornan, Kelly Reilly, Riccardo Scamarcio and a disappointing turnout for Tina Fey. Known for her time on Saturday Night Live (SNL) and NBC’s 30 Rock, Fey felt very out of place in this film.

Her portrayal of her character, Ariadne Oliver, came across as a terrible impression out of an SNL skit. While looking over her film credits, the closest film to a drama that I could find was “This is Where I Leave You,” which Fey was superb in. Perhaps for not the accent, Fey’s character would not have been such a distraction. Her performance pulls the audience out of a story taking place in 1947. Overall, the creative decisions behind the character created a missed opportunity for Fey’s appearance in this film.

Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who also served as the cinematographer for the previous two films, offers audiences striking views, taking full advantage of the post-WWII period and décor. Zambarloukos’ work makes it so that the palazzo itself is as much a character of the film as that of our cast.

Audiences headed to see this film should expect a break from the over-the-top, big explosions and superhero films that have dominated the film landscape for the last decade. “A Haunting in Venice” is the return to classic storytelling cinema that audiences have been missing for some time.

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