Watching “Crooked House” is one of the most joyless movie experiences I have ever had during recent years. Thoroughly flat and tedious in terms of storytelling and characterization, the movie bored me from the beginning to the end, so I came to observe its story and characters without much care or interest, and then I shook my head as watching its eventual finale, which is utterly devoid of dramatic punch despite what is revealed to us in the end.
The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, who, as many of you know, wrote heaps of murder mystery novels known well for clever twists and tricks to be appreciated. While the novel is rather simple and straightforward compared to her other famous mystery novels such as “Murder on the Orient Express”, it was one of her personal favorites, and it is certainly one of her best works mainly thanks to a bunch of broad but vivid figures surrounding the murder case in the novel.
The adapted screenplay by director Gilles Paquet-Brenner and his co-writers Julian Fellowes and Tim Rose Price mostly stays close to the original plot of the novel with some notable changes. After an old rich man suddenly died in his big family mansion, his granddaughter Sophia (Stefanie Martini) comes to a private detective named Charles Hayward (Max Irons), and she asks him to investigate her grandfather’s death because she believes that her grandfather did not die naturally. Because the old personal history between him and Sophia, Charles is rather reluctant at first, but he eventually decides to take the case, and it does not take much for him to see how tricky the situation is. Chief Inspector Taverner (Terence Stamp), who was his father’s old friend/colleague, sternly warns him during their private meeting, and Sophia’s family members understandably do not welcome him much right from the beginning.
As spending more time with Sophia and her family members, Charles comes to realize that everyone in the family mansion has motive and opportunity for killing Sophia’s grandfather, who was loved or hated by his family members for firmly holding everyone near him through his willpower and, yes, money. While his young second wife Brenda (Christina Hendricks) seemed to be happy with her husband, it later turns out that this self-absorbed woman has been rather close to a guy teaching Sophia’s two younger siblings Eustace (Preston Nyman) and Josephine (Honor Kneafsey), and it looks quite possible that she and that guy plotted together to murder her husband. In case of the old man’s two adult sons, Philip (Julian Sands), who is Sophia’s father, and Roger (Christian McKay), both of them have respectively had a fair share of resentment toward their father, and their wives, Magda (Gillian Anderson), who is Sophia’s mother, and Clemency (Amanda Abbington), do not have much affection for their father-in-law either. Compared to others in the mansion, Lady Edith de Haviland (Glenn Close), who is the old man’s sister-in-law and has virtually functioned as the matriarch of the family since his death, is pretty nice and gentle on the surface, but, like many of her family members, she has some streaks of ruthlessness as shown from her first encounter with Charles.
As Charles tries to delve more into the case, things get a bit more complicated than expected. While he and Sophia are still struggling with those old feelings between them, Chief Inspector Taverner is willing to take over the case especially after it is officially confirmed that Sophia’s grandfather was indeed murdered, and there is also a little problem involved with the will left by Sophia’s grandfather, which cannot be legitimate due to the inexplicable absence of his sign on the will.
And then it gradually dawns upon Charles that a certain family member really knows who murdered Sophia’s grandfather. He tries to get the truth from that figure in question, but, of course, something serious soon happens to that figure, and the mood surrounding him and others in the mansion becomes more ominous than before as a result.
Now the plot seems to thicken, but we are not much interested as the movie tediously plods from one point to another without much narrative momentum, and we do not care much about its characters either as they are no more than monotonous cardboard figures. The main cast members of the movie certainly try as much as they can do with their respectively roles, but, unfortunately, there is not much to do for them from the beginning, and it is really disappointing to see their considerable talent being wasted on several annoying cases of one-note acting.
In addition, the movie considerably underachieves in technical aspects. Although I was a little delighted whenever the camera beholds the lovely appearance of the mansion in the film, I was quite dissatisfied with the overall production quality of the movie, and I must say that the movie often looks cheap and bland while riddled with a number of oddly clumsy moments including the very last shot of the film, which, to my disbelief, is simply followed by the mere announcement of the end of the story.
On the whole, “Crooked House” is a middling misfire which does not leave much impression in the end, and my only consolation comes from how quickly it evaporated from my mind once it was over. Maybe you want to check it out if you enjoyed Christie’s novel, but, believe me, you will have a far better time as reading the novel again instead of watching this pointless piece of work.