Big-name stars adorn Christie who­dunit

Christie romp has lovely scenery and a big-name cast to chew it. Lind­sey Bahr re­views.

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Ken­neth Branagh’s Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press is a vis­ual feast, burst­ing with movie stars, glam­our and pro­duc­tion value so high, you might just exit the theatre ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some time­warp whiplash. You’d think no stu­dio nowa­days would make a straight­for­ward, clas­si­cal who­dunit with a bud­get the size of a mod­est su­per­hero pic (and no su­per­heroes to speak of ). What year is this any­way?

But against all odds and logic, here we have, in the wan­ing days of 2017, a per­fectly de­cent adap­ta­tion of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel with the likes of Michelle Pfeif­fer, Pene­lope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench and Branagh him­self light­ing up the big screen and chew­ing the deca­dent scenery like old-fash­ioned stars.

Branagh plays the lead, Her­cule Poirot, a dandy Bel­gian de­tec­tive with a glo­ri­ously over-the-top mous­tache who can only see the world as it should be. Im­per­fec­tions, he says, stand out, whether it’s two soft-boiled eggs that are of dif­fer­ent sizes or, you know, the kind of in­con­gruities that make it im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous to him who has com­mit­ted a crime. This is all laid out quite neatly in a lively open­ing se­quence at the Wail­ing Wall in Jerusalem, where he the­atri­cally solves a theft in front of a crowd of lo­cals on the verge of ri­ot­ing.

Chance brings him aboard the Ori­ent Ex­press, which should re­ally have its own credit in the film, where he meets an odd group of strangers — a sul­try widow (Pfeif­fer), a se­cre­tive gov­erness (Daisy Ri­d­ley), the doc­tor whom she pre­tends to not know (Les­lie Odom Jr.), a gang­ster-like art dealer (Depp), his valet (Derek Ja­cobi) and his book­keeper (Josh Gad), a princess (Dench) and her maid (Olivia Col­man), a re­li­gious zealot (Cruz), a volatile dancer (Sergei Pol­unin) and his sick wife (Lucy Boyn­ton), a Ger­man pro­fes­sor (Willem Dafoe) and a count (Manuel Gar­cia-Rulfo). And then one of them dies — there’s at least a chance some­one read­ing doesn’t yet know who — and ev­ery­one re­main­ing be­comes a sus­pect. Got all that?

Don’t worry. It’s more than a lit­tle over­whelm­ing to keep track of who’s who in this bunch and quite a few get the short shrift. But it’s still fun enough to see Depp ham­ming it up with a thick New York ac­cent, Pfeif­fer vamp­ing around the train’s hall­ways and Branagh ca­reen­ing be­tween giddy par­ody and self-se­ri­ous­ness as a man who de­lights in a well-con­structed pas­try and a good turn-of-phrase from Charles Dick­ens, but can’t seem to com­pre­hend moral am­bi­gu­ity in the slight­est.

Un­for­tu­nately, the movie loses its steam right when the in­trigue is sup­posed to be tak­ing over. The dis­cov­ery process isn’t nearly as fun or en­gag­ing as it should be, and de­spite the en­er­getic start, the film be­comes a bit of a slog wait­ing for the big an­swer. (For those who al­ready know it, ei­ther from the source ma­te­rial, Sid­ney Lumet’s 1974 film or any of the other adap­ta­tions, this might be even more te­dious.)

Branagh cer­tainly steals scenes as Poirot, but the di­rec­tor might have taken some more time to en­sure that all of his char­ac­ters were given as lov­ing a treat­ment as his own, or the set­ting, which is truly quite splen­did.

As odd as it might sound, it is some­what refreshing to sit in a theatre and watch a grand-scale pro­duc­tion that’s not set in space or pre­de­ter­mined by the pages in a comic book. Then it goes and mucks it all up by leav­ing the door con­spic­u­ously open for a se­quel.

PHO­TOS: 20TH CEN­TURY FOX

Michelle Pfeif­fer por­trays a sul­try widow in Ken­neth Branagh’s Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press, a glam­orous feast for the senses.

Johnny Depp and the train it­self star in Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press.

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