Tomatometer: 58% Audience Score: 60% IMDb: 6.3
For starters, Agatha Christie is the bomb. After being alive for 23 years, I regret not picking up a single one of her books. But then, I was never much of a reader, to begin with. Christie’s 1949 novel is adapted this time around with a cast of heavyweights. It’s quite disappointing then to know that the film generated minimal buzz after a November 2017 release, and the low scores across Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb is indicative of fewer eyeballs having seen the movie. This Crooked House review will explain why the film is not just “Not So Rotten,” it’s ‘Definitely Not Rotten.”
Private detective Charles Hayward (Max Irons) is approached by one of his former lovers, Sophia Leonides (Stefanie Martini), to investigate the death of her grandfather Aristide, a businessman who wielded significant power and influence over many continents. Sophia believes her grandfather was poisoned by someone in the estate and hopes to have Charles investigate the matter, before Scotland Yard barges in with more detectives and newspaper reporters to follow.
The couple’s history makes it a difficult proposition for Charles, but his secretary reminds him that he can’t “afford to” drop a single case. He agrees to follow through, but not before getting a visit from Chief Inspector Taverner of Scotland Yard (Terence Stamp). The Yard’s hoping to uncover Aristide’s ties to other governments and foreign agencies, the CIA included, counting on Charles’ past as a spy to kick into effect.
Begrudgingly as he balances multiple interests of the head and heart, Charles sets forth for the Leonides estate, surprised to find an entire cohort of extended family members living under the same roof. There’s Lady Edith de Haviland (Glenn Close), the sister of Aristide’s first wife who moved in upon her death to look after the children. There’s Brenda Leonides (Christina Hendricks), Aristide’s young wife at the time of his death who was a Las Vegas Dancer the patriarch took a liking to. And then, of course, there are the kids. Roger (Chrisitan McKay), the younger son, has the reins of the company business and an intense disdain for Brenda. He’s kept in line by his calm and intelligent wife, Clemency (Amanda Abbington). The elder son Philip (Julian Sands) and his wife Magda (Gillian Anderson) are more inclined to the arts, even though they have very little success in the world of writing or theater. Their kids, the adult Sophia, the teenage Eustace (Preston Nyman) and the young Josephine (Honor Kneafsey) also populate the estate. It’s a colorful group of people, and I haven’t even made it to the nanny and private tutor.
As Charles makes the rounds interviewing the residents of the household, he soon realizes that every single person had a motive to be rid of the elder Leonides. Was it the young wife who for all intents and purposes is a gold digger? Was it the elder son who was denied the opportunity to lead his father’s business empire? Was it the younger son whose business acumen is less than stellar, and who also harbored ill will for his father’s marriage to a foreign dancer? As time passes, it becomes increasingly evident that Aristides Leonides was a very controlling and imposing figure in his family’s lives, influencing and manipulating their actions and ambitions with an iron fist.
This is a family you wouldn’t want to be a part of despite the facade of wealth and opulence. Each conversation Charles has reveals crushed dreams and unfulfilled aspirations. The stellar cast led by the likes of Close, Anderson, and Hendricks presents the competing factions within the household to amazing effect. All of this is best encapsulated in a dinner scene Charles attends. There’s a constant barrage of insults and retorts flying one way and then the other, as siblings and in-laws quarrel and bicker to get an upper hand. At stake, claims to the Leonides inheritance and of course, their innocence.
It’s a superb scene that even manages to throw suspicion in the way of Charles and Sophia, who was the one clamoring for an investigation. There’s an abundance of intelligence in the family, starting with Lady Edith and Sophia, then trickling all the way down to Eustace and Josephine. Josephine is perhaps the smarted and most fascinating character, undertaking a meta-analysis of Charles’ investigation and casting both her and the young PI in the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s up to the audience to figure out who’s cast in which role, however.
The mystery of the movie works on two different levels. On one hand, the death of Aristide Leonides is presented as one of the heart. On the other, it could be more nefarious, embroiling covert agencies spread across the world battling diverging economic and social ideologies. It works thanks to a combination of solid characterization and plot points, further aided by the steady hand of director Gilles Paquet-Brenner.
Paquet-Brenner starts off with a shaky camera direction, adopting the position of a voyeur peering into Charles Hayward’s life. After that, his visual direction takes a more stable, sweeping and operatic style, taking its time with close-ups and pans to match the stature and repute of the Leonides estate and its residents. The score and soundtrack are just as skillful, creating a symbiotic relationship between picture and sound. The haunting touches of classical music are well-placed to enhance the buildups and dissipation of tension at requisite points.
Crooked House is beautifully made and a wonderful study of relationships and power structures within families, created through age, blood, and personal connection. As it elevates the mythos of the patriarch to mammoth heights and details the struggles of his kin living under his shadow, it also lays bare the dumfounding ways in which the whole house of cards could collapse.
- A-list cast bolsters the already strong characters Agatha Christie envisioned.
- Lays out several smoking guns to ensure the mystery prevails through to the end, though a couple might give it away to more observant viewers.
- The visual direction and the soundtrack glued together service the story dutifully.
- The young Josephine played by Kneafsey is a scene stealer.
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Movie Info (From The Hollywood Reporter)
Distributors: Sony Pictures/Stage 6 Films, Metro International
Production companies: A Brilliant Films, Abrams/Wood Venture and Fred Films production in association with Hindsight Media, Enigma, Twickenham Studios, Headgear and Metrol Technology
Cast: Glenn Close, Terence Stamp, Max Irons, Stefanie Martini, Julian Sands, Honor Kneafsey, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks, Christian McKay, Amanda Abbington, Preston Nyman, John Heffernan, Jenny Galloway, Tina Gray, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Andreas Karras, David Kirkbride
Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Screenwriters: Julian Fellowes, Tim Rose Price, Gilles Paquet-Brenner, based on the novel by Agatha Christie
Producers: Joseph Abrams, Sally Wood, James Spring
Executive producers: Paul B. Edgerley, Will Machin, Natalie Brenner, Lisa Wolofsky, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Sunny Vohra, Andrew Boswell, Anders Erdén, Jay Firestone, Tim Smith, James Swarbrick, John Story, Stewart Peter
Director of photography: Sebastian Wintero
Production designer: Simon Bowles
Costume designer: Colleen Kelsall
Music: Hugo de Chaire
Editor: Peter Christelis
Casting: Reg Poerscout-Edgerton
Rated PG-13, 115 minutes