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The detective and the divine


WORLD Radio - The detective and the divine

A Haunting in Venice is better than the Agatha Christie book on which it is based

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, left, and and Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver in a scene from "A Haunting in Venice" Associated Press/20th Century Studios

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, September 15th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

A quick correction before getting in today’s movie review. In Tuesday's program and on our website, we inaccurately framed an interview about last week's decision from the Mexican Supreme Court.

EICHER: Yeah, in the host setup to the interview, we said that the Mexico Supreme Court's ruling decriminalized abortion across the country. Clearly, I didn’t fully understand the precise legal effect of the decision.

Here’s what we know: The ruling is a step towards removing penalties for abortion. The court held that federal laws criminalizing abortion are unconstitutional and called on Mexico’s Congress to repeal those laws in the Federal Code. But the ruling itself did not change any federal legislation.

BROWN: It also did not affect laws in individual states in Mexico that protect babies from abortion. We'll get more details on the ruling in the coming weeks, once the court releases the final version. But in the meantime, the fight continues, and pro-lifers in the country are working to push back against this development.

EICHER: Well, coming next on The World and Everything in It: murder at the movies.

The latest Agatha Christie adaptation A Haunting in Venice debuts in theaters this weekend. And as with other book-to-box office films, the question is: how does this movie measure up to the book it’s based on? Here’s WORLD arts and culture editor Collin Garbarino.

HERCULE POIROT: Tonight, we are all afraid. There have been two murders.

COLLIN GARBARINO: Kenneth Branagh is back with another Hercule Poirot film, once again both directing and starring as the world’s most famous mustachioed detective. The film is ostensibly based on Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, but the book and the movie don’t actually have much in common. The book is set in Christie’s familiar English countryside, but the film begins with a reclusive Poirot living in retirement in Venice.

He’s given up solving cases despite throngs of people begging for his help. Then an old friend shows up—the novelist Ariadne Oliver, played by a subdued, yet still amusing, Tina Fey.

ARIADNE OLIVER: Venice a gorgeous relic, slowly sinking into the sea. Just like your mind without a challenge.

Mrs. Oliver hopes to tempt Poirot out of his self-imposed exile with a perplexing case. She asks him to attend a seance scheduled for Halloween night in hopes he can prove the whole thing is a fraud. Michelle Yeoh plays Joyce Reynolds, the famous spiritualist.

JOYCE REYNOLDS: You don’t believe in the soul’s endurance after death.

HERCULE POIROT: I have lost my faith.

JOYCE REYNOLDS: How sad for you.

HERCULE POIROT: Yes, it is most sad. The truth is sad.

Reynolds has been asked to speak with Alicia Drake, a young woman who died under mysterious circumstances. Besides Poirot, in attendance are Alicia’s mother, nurse, doctor, and fiancé. By the end of the night, Alicia’s demise won’t be the house’s only mysterious death. Poirot can’t let someone get away with committing murder right below his mustache.

ARIADNE OLIVER: I knew you were in there somewhere. All it took was a corpse and look at you. Hercule Poirot all over again.

Each of Branagh’s Poirot films bring a different element to Agatha Christie’s relatively cozy mysteries. Murder on the Orient Express added a dash of action. Death on the Nile had a splash of sensuality. A Haunting in Venice brings a dark and suspenseful brooding more often found in the horror genre. The movie doesn’t contain bad language or sex, but it’s rated PG-13 for some jump scares and disturbing scenes.

ARIADNE OLIVER: Don’t you dare look at me like a murder suspect. We’re old friends.

HERCULE POIROT: Every murderer is somebody’s old friend.

Branagh said Murder on the Orient Express explored the theme of revenge, Death on the Nile greed, and A Haunting in Venice is about whether there’s something beyond us. In Christie’s novels, Poirot is partly motivated by a sense of divine justice, but Branagh’s Poirot has confronted the problem of evil and lost his faith.

HERCULE POIROT: I have seen too much of the world—countless crimes, two wars, the bitter evil of human indifference—and I conclude, no. No God. No ghosts.

The movie hints that it’s his disbelief that’s driven him into his reclusive retirement. What’s the point of searching for truth and justice, if in the end life has no meaning or purpose.

HERCULE POIROT: Please understand, madam, I would welcome with open arms any honest sign of devil or demon or ghost, for if there is a ghost, there is a soul. If there is a soul, there is a God who made it. And if we have God, we have everything.

A Haunting in Venice is a tight psychological thriller with a fantastic ensemble cast. It’s set in a rundown melancholy palazzo that could be seen as a metaphor for this once beautiful, yet broken, world we all inhabit. A strong story, coupled with Branagh’s stunning cinematography makes this the best of his Poirot movies to date.

But how does A Haunting in Venice compare to Hallowe’en Party, the novel it’s supposedly based on? I’m happy to report the movie is actually much better than the book. Hallowe’en Party is one of Christie’s weakest novels. The solution was obvious from the beginning and the crime itself was overly complex—even by Christie’s standards. Branagh streamlined the plot and made the killer’s identity a little trickier to spot. Maybe too tricky, because the clues he explains at the reveal are pretty tough for viewers to spot.

I wasn’t very impressed with Branagh’s second outing Death on the Nile, and I hoped after that movie, he might be done with his psychologically tormented version of Poirot. But now that I’ve seen A Haunting in Venice, I don’t want Branagh’s Poirot to go back into retirement. I’m already ready for the next mystery.

HERCULE POIROT: Hercule Poirot is on the case.

I’m Collin Garbarino.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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