Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

The Fracturing of the Soul:

Murder on the Orient Express





Early on in this new version of Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery, Inspector Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Brannagh) declares with passion that there exists only good and evil, with nothing in between.  It’s hard to see how any human being, let alone one of his brilliance, can have reached the age he is and still maintain such a rigid – and patently false – moral stance.

Of course, by the end of Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot will have been witness to the fracturing of not just one soul, but of many; and he will be a wiser, more tolerant and sadder man.

One of the problems with this remake for anyone over 40 is Sidney Lumet’s fine big-name 1974 ensemble version, with Albert Finney as the Belgian sleuth.  That would be hard to beat at the best of times.  And back then it was something of a novelty to see one of these pieces, with major stars all doing their own thing — A Bridge Too Far is another one that comes to mind — but these days it’s not such a big deal.

The other problem is Brannagh himself, as he has decided to direct from Michael Green’s script as well as star.  Now Brannagh is a decent director, with an interesting and very mixed bag of fourteen films behind him, including five fine Shakespearian adaptations as well as the odd complete dud like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  But taking on the lead role as well?  He’s done it in the past, but this time it is his own personal ‘bridge too far’.

He never really convinces as Poirot, especially as we have now been thoroughly spoiled by David Suchet’s sublime interpretation.  And don’t get me started on that ludicrously over-the-top moustache!  Good God, who on earth thought that was a good idea?  It remains the single most distracting and offputting thing in the entire film.

I really wanted to give this version every chance, but my heart sank right from the overblown and totally unnecessary prologue in Jerusalem; and by the time that we eventually boarded the Orient Express and were introduced to its grab-bag of soon-to-be murder suspects, I knew that it wasn’t likely to rise to the surface again.  Still, at least I could look forward to some big-screen glamour as the famous coaches sped through exotic 1934 settings.

Well, not really; I had forgotten that the train gets stuck in a snowdrift – or an avalanche as it is here.  From then on, despite Brannagh’s best efforts with tricky camera-work, I felt as if we might as well be watching a stage play. It also served as an unfortunate reminder of how damned good Sidney Lumet was with characters in slightly confined spaces.

Pacing is yet another problem, with one glaring scene where the really bad guy Ratchett (Johnny Depp) tries to enlist Poirot’s help.  I can see that it is important in showing Poirot’s integrity and sheer courage; but despite Depp tapping into left-over reserves of Whitey Bulger from his excellent Black Mass, it merely serves – as do several other scenes – to bring this train to a grinding stop.

Murder on the Orient Express has an impressive cast that includes Derek Jacobi, Willem Dafoe and a host of others; but in the case of Judi Dench and Penélope Cruz, it’s hard to see why they signed on for this other than as a favour to Brannagh.

The one stand-out is Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, a good and juicy part that this beautiful and talented actress squeezes the very best out of.  It makes me wish, not for the first time, that we could see more of her in decent films.

There’s a good movie in here somewhere.  I particularly liked the scenes of Poirot wrestling with his conscience towards the end; and the actual murder itself is really quite nightmarish and disturbing.  Yet it seems wildly optimistic to close with a set-up for a remake of Death on the Nile.  If he gets his wish, the talented Mr. Brannagh may want to change his strategy somewhat.






Author: Charley Brady

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  1. Not greatest film ever made Charley I’d place it in the watchable bracket, did enjoy the cinematography but it seemed to lack any real sense of tension, oh as for that moustache, did nobody cotton on to how ridiculous, distracting and fake looking it was when reviewing the final cuts?.

    Branagh’s Shakespeare crap I always avoid like most Robin Williams movies, but he has made some good stuff, notably the excellent ‘Dead Again’ which was one of his earlier outputs.

  2. ‘Shakespeare crap?’ That sound you hear is me with my hands over my ears and rocking to and fro in anguish. Listen: give his ‘Henry V’ a chance. You might be in for a VERY pleasant surprise!

    Yes, I also liked ‘Dead Again’ (his second if memory serves) and even have a weakness for ‘Peter’s Friends’ and ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ although I’ll admit that they may not be to everyone’s taste.

    As to the moustache…the less said the better. I saw someone commenting that it probably had its own trailer. Sounds possible.

  3. I suppose I always found a little bit of snobbery attached to Shakespeare aficionados, if you don’t like Shakespeare you just don’t get it?.

    Basically Charley that ‘Ye Olde English’ speak drives me demented, so I’ll think I’ll take a pass on Henry V.

  4. “When he himself might his quietus make/With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear . . . ”

    What the hell is that crap Charley?.

  5. Ah yes, ye Olde Snob way of looking at Shakespeare; ye Olde Elitist way. And the thing is that you’re right, Patrick; there is a lot of that attached to his work — usually by people who go to a play in order to be seen at that play. And always the usual ones — ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Macbeth’ or ‘Merchant of Venice’. Ask them what they thought of the lesser known ones and they’ll have a massive brain embolism.

    A lot of it is down to people like Shakespeare critics who want to, for whatever reasons, make it something that Joe Soap can’t understand.

    Will himself was the most down-to-earth of blokes. And I’ve been lucky enough to see his plays in several countries, but the two that shine right out for me were were both done in Ireland and they were both open-air affairs, just as the Bard meant them to be: one was ‘Twelfth Night’ where kids came along and laughed out loud at the shenannigans and the other was ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, much the same. He would have approved.

    A friend of mine says that Shakespeare doesn’t lend himself to cinema. You know what? He’s probably right; and yet I hope that at some stage (no pun intended) you’ll take a look at how Olivier or Brannagh at least tried. You just might be surprised.

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