Murder on the Orient Express

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   Murder on the Orient Express
 

As he's happy to inform you, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is the world's greatest detective. When he runs into his buddy Bouc (Tom Bateman, "Snatched") in Istanbul, the train line's business director offers to get him onto his world famous luxury transport.  Poirot's on vacation and turns down fellow passenger Edward Ratchett's (Johnny Depp) request to provide protection for a fee, but when the man's stabbed multiple times that evening, the Belgian sleuth must solve a "Murder on the Orient Express."

Laura:
Director/star Kenneth Branagh began his filmmaking career with bracing Shakespearean adaptations like "Henry V," then continued to surprise with his fun Marvel movie "Thor" and a very worthwhile Disney live adaptation of its own "Cinderella."  So, what's gone so wrong here?  Oh where to begin except for maybe the beginning, the film's lone attempt at humor in an extended and thoroughly unnecessary prologue which showcases Poirot's exacting gourmandism and his self aggrandizing flair for the dramatic.  The fifteen or so minutes given over to a case involving a rabbi, a priest and an imam (are you laughing yet?) could have been sorely used in later, more climactic, yet logistically muddled goings on.  Screenwriter Michael Green's ("Logan," "Alien: Covenant") adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel lacks character definition, only a few of the more than dozen suspects coming to life, and the twist he's given to the ending is a bit of politically correct modernism that adds little.

The first fellow traveler Poirot will meet is Miss Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), a governess whose sotto voce exchange with Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr., "Red Tails") raises suspicions before they've even boarded the train.  And it is with the train, along with hair, makeup and costume, that Branagh's production shines brightest, even if the landscapes it passes through look awfully artificial.  The filmmakers waste more time with Poirot's travel arrangements until he's bunked in with Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad, "Marshall"), Ratchett's business secretary (temporarily, as it turns out).

Except for unwanted embellishments, Green sticks to Christie's story, Poirot awoken by various disturbances during the night.  After an avalanche derails the train, stranding all, the murder is discovered the next morning, Poirot finding a woman's initialled handkerchief, a pipe cleaner and a piece of a burned note in the dead man's cabin.   It is determined that the murderer must be one of the occupants of Poirot's car and so he begins a series of interviews with people who may not be who they appear to be.  These include the aforementioned, along with missionary Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz), car salesman Biniamino Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, 2016's "The Magnificent Seven"), Ratchett's valet Edward Henry Masterman (Derek Jacobi), the seductive Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), German professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe), Count Rudolph and Countess Elena Andrenyi (Ukranian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton, "Sing Street") and Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and her companion Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman, "The Lobster"). The recreation of the crime and its motivation are slapdash and lackluster.

I sincerely hope this exceptional cast enjoyed their time together, because few of them make much of an impression in Branagh's movie.  Depp looks old and annoyed.  Ridley adds bright notes, Jacobi elicits sympathy and Colman gets to speak German.  Branagh's best asset is his ridiculously elaborate moustache, the upper lip equivalent of Farrah Fawcett's 70's hair, but it and he are a far cry from the Poirot described by Christie.  Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos ("Thor," "Cinderella") draws too much attention to his camera moves, close ups of his stars not lit for flattery.

Branagh's "Murder on the Orient Express" is tedious and takes itself far too seriously. Check out Sidney Lumet's 1970's version starring Albert Finney instead.

Grade:  D+

Robin:
Robin did not see this film.
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