Combustible Celluloid
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With: Glenn Close, Terrence Stamp, Max Irons, Stefanie Martini, Julian Sands, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks, Christian McKay, Honor Kneafsey, Jenny Galloway
Written by: Julian Fellowes, Tim Rose Price, Gilles Paquet-Brenner, based on a novel by Agatha Christie
Directed by: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and some sexual content
Running Time: 115
Date: 12/22/2017

Crooked House (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Christie Critters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on an Agatha Christie novel, this mystery is beautifully shot with great set design but suffers from its odd pace: too fast to pick up on character nuance, but too slow to generate any suspense.

In Crooked House, private eye Charles Hayward (Max Irons) is hired by a former lover, Sophia de Havilland (Stefanie Martini), to uncover the murderer of her wealthy grandfather, Aristide Leonides. The house is filled with relatives, all of whom despised the old man, and all suspects.

Hayward investigates everyone, from Edith (Glenn Close), who hunts moles with a gun, to Aristide's grown sons Philip (Julian Sands) and Roger (Christian McKay), Philip's actress wife, Magda (Gillian Anderson), and the old man's second wife, a former Las Vegas dancer, Brenda (Christina Hendricks), who stands to inherit everything.

Hayward also bonds with 12 year-old Josephine (Honor Kneafsey), who says she knows everything that goes on in the house (but also admits that she likes to make things up). But with a Scotland Yard chief inspector (Terence Stamp) riding him, Hayward has precious little time to uncover the real killer.

One of the author's own personal favorites, Crooked House serves up an entire mansion full of suspects, and all of them appear equally guilty and equally innocent. The director, Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah's Key, Dark Places) seems more intent on trying to build a mystery than building a world populated by characters. Everyone seems placed like a puzzle piece, rather than organically occupying a living space.

Certainly Christie's skill comes into play during the final act, as the denouncement begins to occur, and the disparate clues that have been scattered about begin to make sense, but up until then, it's a thinly-spread mess. The movie spends a great deal of time on the history between the detective and the young woman, and it amounts to almost nothing; it's padding.

Screenwriter Julian Fellowes has done better with things like Gosford Park and TV's Downton Abbey; this one is just a lazy weekend in a big house with people no one would ever give a hoot about.

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