That this murder mystery is pleasingly old-school ties in well with its source material. Agatha Christie's sordid tales of murder and mayhem have long been a rich source of cinematic intrigue since the age of silent cinema, often with mixed results. But here, director Gilles Paquet-Brenner does an admirable job with a conservative but well-considered adaptation of arguably Christie's most twisted tale.
It's set in the 1950s, when spy-turned-private-detective Charles Hayward (Max Irons) reluctantly takes a job from an old flame, Sophie (Stefanie Martini). Her grandfather was murdered with a fatal barbiturate injection … or so it seems. The film's cold palette and haunting score lend an appropriately ominous mood as Hayward, against his better judgment, visits the sprawling estate where Sophie's aristocratic family live together in opulence.
The mansion's labyrinthine layout is full of plausible suspects; among them, the bombastic matriarch Edith (Glenn Close), two problematic sons, Philip (Julian Sands) and Roger (Christian McKay), pretentious actress Magda (Gillian Anderson) and the late Mr Leonides' second wife and widow Brenda (Christina Hendricks), who stands to inherit it all.
The acting is heavy-handed - with plenty of theatrical bluster, but far from being on-the-nose - and its watertight script has you feeling the solution is always tantalisingly close -exactly what you want from a whodunnit.
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Not without its faults, the film drags in the middle stanza and the handsomely mild Max Irons (unlike his father, Jeremy) lacks the charisma required of the central sleuth.
Crooked House's murderous riddle is mercifully accessible in its exposition, yet intriguingly clever, its courageous ending leaving a bitter but satisfying taste.
Cast: Max Irons, Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson
Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Running time: 115 mins
Rating: PG (Coarse language & sexual references)
Verdict: Christie's poisonous tale is served with a deliciously bitter after-taste.