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Review: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

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Joseph Friar

By Joseph Friar
Nov. 11, 2017 at 10:52 a.m.




Review: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Daisy Ridley, Marwan Kenzari, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Fulfo, Sergei Polunin, Tom Bateman, Miranda Raison

Directed by Kenneth Branagh 

If the new remake of Agatha Christie’s novel took place in the present day rather than 1934, Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot would be obsessed with Instagram and Snapchat.  I can imagine the world’s greatest sleuth using the Ludwig filter to highlight that incredible moustache that looks like a Mr. Potato Head snap-on piece.  Shot in 65mm, the film looks stunning and the cast is filled with A-list actors but unfortunately this whodunnit is just as showcase for Branagh who remains front and center at all times. 

Those familiar with Agatha Christie’s novel, Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film, or the 2010 BBC version know how this murder mystery plays out but newcomers who are used to layers of twists and drawn-out false endings may find the film’s conclusion a bit campy.  Still, it is refreshing to go back to an old-fashioned whodunit and Branagh has done a fantastic job of avoiding the gimmicks that are so prevalent in today’s films.  For example, there is an avalanche in one scene that could have turned in to an overblown CGI spectacle, but it doesn’t.  The special effects are very good without going overboard.  

Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos give the audience plenty of eye-candy.  Grand vistas and snow-covered mountains are a beauty to behold while the Orient Express is an ornamental vision that screams luxury.  I wanted to be on that train with the rest of this stellar cast, sitting at the bar enjoying a Gin Rickey or probably the more appropriate drink, a Sidecar.  The illusion of traveling back to this long-forgotten era is actualized by Alexandra Byrne’s lavish costumes.  

The plot is simple.  Someone has been murdered on the Orient Express and so it’s fortunate that the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot, is on board to solve the crime.  Everyone is a potential suspect therefore Poirot begins to interrogate the passengers one by one.  This is an austere bunch of travelers who never once question the absurdity of Poirot’s mustache.  

On board  we have the gangster-looking Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett with Derek Jacobi as his valet and a very good Josh Gad as his secretary, Michelle Pfeiffer as widow Caroline Hubbard, Penélope Cruz in the role that won Ingrid Bergman an Oscar in 1974, the wonderful Judi Dench as Russian Princess Dragomiroff, the rest of the cast which includes Willem Dafoe, Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley, Olivia Coleman, Leslie Odom Jr., Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Lucy Boynton, and others, are left with small roles that surface throughout the film that was written by Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049).  

There have been roughly 20 actors that have tackled the role of Hercule Poirot, most notably Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, and most recently an excellent David Suchet in the BBC production.  No doubt there will be comparisons to these performances and while I found Kenneth Branagh’s version of the famous sleuth a little too debonair (along with that distracting ‘stache), it was refreshing to enjoy an old-fashioned murder mystery, even when I knew the outcome.  

I feel that 20th Century Fox jumped the gun on the release date.  Let’s hope this train picks up enough steam to stick around for the holidays.  “Murder on the Orient Express” is the perfect vehicle to take the parents along especially right after Thanksgiving. 

(3 stars) 

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