Monday, March 26, 2018

Murder on the Orient Express: Not a Must-See or a Want-to-See, Perhaps Just an Okay-See

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Version: Library borrow

Murder on the Orient Express is a remake of a remake of a remake of a remake of an Agatha Christie murder mystery classic. Yes, there have been five films of this story, beginning in 1974. Enough, already! Honestly, I don't think anyone can play a better Hercule Poirot than David Suchet, but in this version Kenneth Branagh gives it his best shot. It isn't enough. I haven't seen the other versions besides the 1974 film, so I cannot comment on them, but I preferred the 1974 cast other than Albert Finney as Poirot. Alfred Molina played the leading role in 2001 and he's a fine actor, so he could very well have pulled it off to satisfaction.

Here is the gist of the plot. The world's best detective takes the world's most lavish train, the Orient Express, from Istanbul to Paris, counting on a relaxing trip. On the way, there is a murder. Of course, only Poirot can solve it. Since the train has been moving the whole time, everyone onboard is a suspect -- everyone except Poirot. In this version, Poirot is taking the trip because he is exhausted from a strenuous examination of another murder and wishes to take the long journey as a form of holiday, so he isn't receptive to investigating the murder. In fact, earlier the victim has asked him to be his body guard, but Poirot refuses. Partway into the trip as the train makes its way into the mountainous terrain of Yugoslavia, an avalanche blocks the tracks, nearly knocking the locomotive off and setting up a long wait for help to arrive. Poirot is a friend of the owner of the Orient Express, who begs him to investigate before the Yugoslavian authorities arrive. He reluctantly agrees, and so the battle of wits between Poirot and the suspects begins.

As with past films, Murder on the Orient Express relies on a long list of recognizable actors to attract an audience. Kenneth Branagh directs as well as acts in this. Judi Dench is always a welcome presence. There is also Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, and Derek Jacobi, along with a group of lesser knows. It is an ensemble cast, which makes the story work. If it weren't for the familiar faces, would we care as much about the characters? I wonder.

Branagh's Belgian accent leaves much to be desired. Poirot is fastidious in all his ways, and Branagh fails to carry out the character in this way, also He could easily be playing some other famous detective, although I couldn't place a name on him. I would ask, might Johnny Depp not have done better service to this role? Something to have considered, Mr Branagh the director. I can see it, considering the eccentricity of some of the roles Depp has played (consider the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland).

So, to conclude, I can't say 2017's Murder on the Orient Express is a must-see, or even a want-to-see. If you're bored some evening or weekend, it's an okay-see. If nothing else, see if for the stars and the scenery.

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