Movie Reviews

Murder On The Orient Express Movie Review: It Is Far Less Expressive Than Its Impressive Cast

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Willem Defoe, Michelle Pfeiffer

Directed by:  Kenneth Branagh

Rating; ** ½(2 and a half stars)

Unless  you are the bloke  who recently re-envisaged and ravaged  Ittefaq  beyond recognition, there  is not much that  one  can do wrong with Agatha Christie. But then again  there  is only this  much one  can do with material so  pitch-perfect  and  sacrosanct on paper, it defies revisionist interpretations.

Sure enough Kenneth Branagh has  not tampered  with Agatha’s gatha (tale) at  all.  Branagh tells the  murder mystery with such tender  affection and keen fidelity that you can’t help being disarmed  by  the sheer scrupulosity  of  the director’s unquestioning vision.

 This  is  Agatha Christie’s  dark and seductive world  clogged with well-groomed  bewigged  and  charming characters who are prone to great  heights  of self-assertion including , if pushed  to a corner  , murder.

Baranagh  jampacks  the luxury train  with  stars.  Bollywood has ceased  to produce  multi-starrers  now. But here is one  from  a British actor-director who  knows  how to use major stars to  pin down and position the Christie whodunit with  panache ,warmth and  humour.

I found the cast impressive, far  more so  than the rather sedate unquestioning treatment of the plot which  just goes from plot-point to plot-point without adding anything significant  to  the  beloved  novel.Branagh as  the pompous Belgian detective Hercule  Poirot comes across as way too twinkle-eyed, almost laughing inwardly at Poirot’s self-importance, but nonetheless imbuing a moral rectitude  to the underhand  proceedings on-board  the train.

His  final moral  conflict is  the  narrative highlight.Branagh  plays the finale with melodramatic majesty,asking the suspects  to shoot him rather than allow him to lie .

Well, well.

Which brings me  to the way Branagh uses the constrained spaces  on the speeding train.  The lay-out  of  the  locomotive  is admirable, as  is  the manner in which the characters move through the  narrow spaces  creating a kind of glamorous claustrophobia  for themselves and fortunately,  not for the audience.

The  murder suspects  are all impressively played, even when an actress of Judi Dench’s stature barely has  four lines to speak. This must  be  one of Ms Dench’s poorest screen  appearances.Other stalwarts  manage to shine even when not given  much space to do so. I was particularly taken up by William  Defoe’s accent, Penelope  Cruz’s  religiosity , Michelle Pfeiffer’s hair ,Johnny Dead….err, Depth…sorry  Depp’s  scowling arrogance and  Josh Gad’s moustache.

 Which  brings me  to Hercule Poirot’s legendary moustache, here played by Branagh’s facial hair which has a life   of its own. The moustache  is  likely to be nominated for an Oscar of its own. Luckily for Agatha Christie’s fans, much of  the other factors in the whodunit  blend into  the  fertile and  furiously mysterious  fabric  of  the plot without  much ado.

There  is  a line in the film about a Black doctor, played by Leslie Odom Jr where a character  expresses fear that the colour  of  the doctor’s skin would make  him a  prime crime  suspect.

 This  chic but  unremarkable adaptation   of  Agatha Christie’s novels courts  no controversies, disregards  none  of  the rules  of the traditional whodunit. It is as innocuous as murder can  be when placed  in the prism  of the makebelieve.

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