Old Harlan Thrombey, crime novelist, is found dead, having apparently committed suicide after his birthday party. An unknown person hires Benoit Blanc, the “last gentleman detective”, to investigate this supposed suicide and it isn’t long before everyone in his household is a suspect, from the rebellious grandson to the sweet-natured caregiver.
I enjoyed this much more than I did Frozen 2 as it was a murder mystery very much in the veins of a Poirot story.
=== Spoiler warning after this ===
The Good Stuff
- Director Rian Johnson was inspired by Agatha Christie and it shows. (Even the poster title treatment mimics the classic Christie novel covers!) It felt very like an Agatha Christie story, perhaps only failing slightly in a couple of aspects. There was a whole cast of Christie-like characters – the good, the bad, the ugly, the odd.
- The first part of the movie was well-executed. Good choice to cut back and forth between characters as they were being interviewed by the police and Benoit Blanc. You get quick and concise introductions to the characters while at the same time learning what happened at the party the night before.
- I liked that the visuals were not dreary and bordering on black-and-white. The Thrombey mansion had the feeling of a house in which suspicious and mysterious things happen (and the cutaways of random staring figurines emphasized the creepiness) – even the cop comments on it at one point – but it didn’t look like a horror movie. There were was only maybe a couple of points in the movie at which the visuals took on a darker tone. Otherwise, it was brightly lit and quite saturated. Some characters (as you can see in the poster) wear eye-popping colours, which is a tremendous relief. I really am tired of the gloomy desaturated look in movies.
- Chris Evans was great as the smug rebel grandson. He managed to be the charming rogue whose charm you didn’t feel even though you could see how other people might find him so. That’s an interesting tightrope to walk. The character itself worked well too. It’s the “he’s too obvious a suspect to be the murderer – but wait! He really is the person behind it all” twist. I think at some point most people figured out he was the bad guy but as these mystery stories go, it really comes down to the question of “How?”
Rian Johnson did a good job of emulating the murder mystery style reveal here.
- The cast was overall very good. The smarmy and unpleasant characters (which is nearly all of them) were appropriately unlikeable while also being comedic in their ridiculousness.
- The plot was fairly tight. The main suspects have valid motives for murder, and there were no glaring plotholes. Again, good job, Rian Johnson.
(I’ve only seen the movie once so there might be things I’d notice after a few viewings or after reading other reviews.)
The Bad Stuff
- I’m not sure that Daniel Craig’s southern accent as Benoit Blanc really worked. He should just have used his normal British accent. That name is so obviously French-styled that the southern accent feels slightly off. (I might also be too accustomed to seeing Daniel Craig as James Bond by now to fully believe him as a character with a French name but southern US accent…) Presumably it’s all part of the nod to Agatha Christie’s Poirot, but with an American twist to it. Didn’t quite work though. I’d like one of my American friends to tell me how accurate that southern accent was too. hahah
- Marta’s complete inability to lie and her tendency to vomit if she lied was perhaps the most unbelievable and exaggerated part of the whole story. It seemed cartoonish.
The Other Stuff
- I think more of the characters’ motivations could have been fleshed out instead of just the main three or four suspects. This is one aspect in which the story does not quite match Agatha Christie’s style, since she often pointed fingers are just about everyone possible. But this is a movie, not a book. It wouldn’t have made sense to try and cram in deep back stories and possible motives for more than those few main characters. As it stands, it was enough for the movie’s 130-minute runtime.
- The Malay subtitles on this were mostly okay but there were parts where the translator didn’t quite get the nuance of the phrases (e.g. “in for a penny, in for a pound” was translated as being all about money). The translator also totally misheard “Mrs. Thrombey” (Harlan’s mother) and translated it as “Encik Thrombey” (“Mr” instead of “Mrs”) every single time.
- Trooper Wagner being a fan of Harlan Thrombey’s books and murder mystery fiction in general made for some amusing bits where he can’t help but display his enthusiasm.
- They do manage to squeeze in some social commentary – a short discusson on immigration issues, and Harlan’s granddaughter and youngest grandson exchange barbs calling each other “alt-right troll” and “liberal snowflake.” But it wasn’t too heavy-handed so it didn’t interrupt the story.