Glenn Close leads the messy, fun murder-mystery Crooked House.Based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name, Crooked House is a bit of a tonal disaster. The movie, which follows private investigator Charles Hayward (Max Irons) as he investigates the murder of Aristide Leonides, includes a scene where Aristide’s former sister-in-law Lady Edith de Havilland (Close) is introduced firing a shotgun at the lawn of the family’s illustrious mansion in order to “kill the moles” on the grounds. This is just one example of the lack of subtlety the movie has, also including a young girl who lectures the investigator on the proper way to investigate murders based on books she’s read, multiple fake wills that are debated over throughout, and some high-octane acting. The movie never lets you catch your breath, for better or worse.
The cast is a who’s-who of recognizable actors and actresses, including Close, Gillian Anderson as a Aristide’s failed actress daughter-in-law, Christina Hendricks as his far younger second wife, and Terence Stamp as the Chief Investigator at Scotland Yard. The excellent cast isn’t enough, however, to elevate the script. The audience is treated dumber than necessary, the murder’s details explained so repeatedly that you never need to think for yourself. This need to detail everything has two major consequences. First, it makes our detective seem much less intelligent than he should, never doing much detecting on his own. Second, it drags what could have been a 90-minute movie into an overlong 115.
Set in the mid-1950s, the movie manages to play well within its period setting, with the costuming and set decorations embracing the bizarreness of the period. Following Hayward as he attempts to determine who poisoned the patriarch while also contending with his own feelings for Aristide’s granddaughter Sophia (Stefanie Martini), the twisty story leaves you feeling as if anyone in the house could be a killer. The way the film captures the Leonides estate is beautiful and director Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s surrealist touches work wonders in making the house seem impossible in all the best ways. However, every scene outside the mansion is a jumbled mess, with cinematography that feels like an awkward attempt at found footage.
The biggest strengths of the film come when it plays up the silliness, Close and Anderson nailing the film’s absurdity. The dramatic elements of the movie still work well enough, but the movie is still very much almost a comedy. No Christie work should really be played for laughs, but with such bizarre characters it’s hard not to find it humorous. And in a year that also featured the Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express, this movie isn’t out of the ordinary in 2017.
It is hard to talk too much about Crooked House‘s plot without spoiling many of its twists and turns. However, it is safe to say this isn’t a movie for everyone. The film never settles on whether it wants to be tragic or entertaining, bordering on camp at times. Crooked House is enjoyable thanks to the work of some wonderful performances and a house that is filmed like an actor itself, despite the overlong runtime and wrote mystery at its core.
In Theaters: December 22nd