Tuesday, May 15, 2018

In short: Crooked House (2017)

On paper, Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s Agatha Christie adaptation of one of her more interesting books even for a Christie-sceptic like myself should be right up my alley. It does, after all consist of pretty yet excellent actors like Max Irons, Stefanie Martini, Glenn Close and Christina Hendricks broadly strutting their stuff in front of sets so stylized to be of the 50s your eyeballs might melt and you might just feel they have nothing at all to do with the actual feel of the era the director looks at here. It also features show-off camera tricks that’d make young Brian De Palma blush or (gasp) request moderation. But in practice, I had little joy with the thing, for this isn’t a case of style as substance but a film akin to watching a director you’re really not terribly into masturbate to his own image for two hours straight. There’s little emotional or thematic point to anything going on here, apart from the usual suggestion that the rich are vile, pretty, and spend all their time getting their outfits in photogenic shapes. Instead of having much at all to say, the film is just a parade of loud but empty gestures that never add up to much, and while it is pretty to look at, it’s the prettiness of a particularly empty head. While there’s a surfeit at excellent actors on screen, there’s only so much anyone can do when asked to inhabit an empty shell.

The mystery is probably well-constructed (though the “shocking twist” is neither well realized by the film nor terribly shocking for anyone who has seen a horror movie or three), but at about half of the film’s running time, I found myself encountering a very typical feeling when it comes to me and traditional manor house mysteries: the realization that I not only didn’t care which of these high-strung arseholes killed their arsehole pater familias, but was hoping for the rest of them to be killed off too right quick (spoilers: not much joy there). Which probably isn’t the kind of emotional involvement the thing is going for, but a boy must distract himself somehow when a film’s aesthetics are quite this pointlessly tacky, and there’s no intellectual stimulation to be had by it either.

So this turns out to be pretty much the film I unfairly expected Brannagh’s Murder on the Orient Express to be.

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