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 .
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.