All-star re­make serves mur­der most medi­ocre


Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press

(out of 4) Star­ring Ken­neth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeif­fer, Pene­lope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Daisy Ri­d­ley and Les­lie Odom Jr. Di­rected by Ken­neth Branagh. Opens Fri­day at GTA the­atres. 115 min­utes. PG Ken­neth Branagh’s re­make of Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press is billed as a mo­tion pic­ture. But it might better be thought of as a two-hour mov­ing selfie of the di­rec­tor, who is also the lead star.

Seiz­ing the role of Her­cule Poirot, the as­tound­ing Bel­gian de­tec­tive who en­livens 33 Agatha Christie nov­els and mul­ti­far­i­ous me­dia adap­ta­tions, Branagh makes sure the cam­era re­mem­bers his face.

He adopts at all times a pierc­ing gaze akin to that of a dis­ap­prov­ing som­me­lier in a fancy restau­rant, whose sug­ges­tion of a $100 bot­tle of bub­bly has been de­clined in favour of a half-litre of house plonk.

Branagh’s Poirot is for­ever on the case, of course, solv­ing ev­ery­thing from elab­o­rate mur­der plots to why his boiled eggs at break­fast aren’t ex­actly the same size (“I blame the hen”).

Yet he might more prof­itably aim those prob­ing peep­ers to­wards his re­flec­tion in a mir­ror, to pon­der the Mys­tery of the Ridicu­lous Mous­tache. Branagh has ex­panded Poirot’s sig­na­ture waxed ’stache to the bushy ex­treme where it re­quires its own Na­tional Ge­o­graphic spe­cial, one de­voted to de­ter­min­ing which an­i­mal gave up its life so it might sprawl across the fussy sleuth’s mug. (I de­duce that it’s a baby grey squir­rel, al­though pos­si­bly it’s a chip­munk in dis­guise or even a fos­silized mar­mot.)

Then there’s Branagh’s atro­cious ac­cent, which re­duces to com­i­cal franglais such fa­mous lines as these: “Zere is right and zere is wrong and zere is noth­ing in-be­tween!” (Was Jean Du­jardin not avail­able for this gig?)

These are un­needed dis­trac­tions in a film, scripted by Michael Green ( Lo­gan, Blade Run­ner 2049), which barely seems to no­tice what a fab- ulous cast it boasts, cov­er­ing all the fa­mil­iar char­ac­ters of this well-told story.

Roll out the bold­face: Johnny Depp’s stab-wor­thy gang­ster Ed­ward Ratch­ett; Michelle Pfeif­fer’s merry widow Caro­line Hub­bard; Judi Dench’s ex­iled Rus­sian Princess Dragomiroff; Pene­lope Cruz’s holy roller Pi­lar Es­trava­dos; Willem Dafoe’s Aus­trian enigma Ger­hard Hard­man; plus other fa­mil­iar fig­ures played by Daisy Ri­d­ley, Josh Gad, Les­lie Odom Jr. and oth­ers.

All are poorly em­ployed in a con­vo­luted plot, mostly faith­ful to Christie’s tale, that even the author her­self ad­mit­ted is a bit of an eye-roller: so many co­in­ci­dences and mur­der mo­tives, with a thinly veiled retelling of the kid­nap­ping of the Lind­bergh baby thrown in for good mea­sure.

At least the film looks great. Alexan­dra Byrne’s flashy cos­tumes are al­most worth the price of ad­mis­sion. So is Haris Zam­bar­loukos’ heroic cin­e­matog­ra­phy, which helps lifts the film out of its claus­tro­pho­bic rail­way con­fines — al­though this ver­sion of the Ori­ent Ex­press train, the leg­endary trans-Europe con­veyance, is a sleek steam­punk joy to be­hold.

When­ever Zam­bar­loukos suc­ceeds in pulling the cam­era out of Branagh’s face, we are treated to awe­some vis­tas of Is­tan­bul, Jerusalem and snow-cov­ered moun­tain ranges. They made me wish I were on the train, rather than watch­ing the movie.


Di­rec­tor Ken­neth Branagh plays Her­cule Poirot, with a ridicu­lous mous­tache and an atro­cious ac­cent, in Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press, Peter How­ell writes.

The star-stud­ded cast in­cludes Johnny Depp as gang­ster Ed­ward Ratch­ett.

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