114 MINS) DIRECTED BY KENNETH BRANAGH (M,
The year is 1934. Somewhere high in the Alps a train has been stranded and partially derailed by an avalanche. On board are a disparate group and their various helpmates. One of their number is murdered in a surpassingly gruesome fashion.
Lucky then, that ‘‘probably the greatest detective in the world’’ Monsieur Hercule Poirot should also be a passenger. Put like that, sounds about as likely, credible and watchable as whatever Dan ‘‘ Brown is working on right now. But it’s not.
is worse. Far worse.
I haven’t read the Agatha Christie novel – or any of her tales – so I can’t really comment on the film’s faithfulness to the source material. I can only suppose the broad strokes are in place and there’s nothing here to too grievously outrage Christie’s vast fanclub.
What I can talk about is this film. And it’s a clunker. Director Kenneth Branagh casts himself as the super-sleuth Poirot, which is all well and good. Branagh gives good pompousness in most roles and he’s absolutely fine as the OCD-afflicted Belgian with the steel-trap mind.
The problem with this film isn’t Branagh’s performance. It’s every other bloody thing. Branagh and his camera never solve the problem of shooting in the confines of a train. The film is cramped, poorly lit and confusingly choreographed. Back in 2007, Wes Anderson’s
handed the 21st century a lesson in exactly how to make a train’s interior work best on screen. Branagh should have rented the DVD and watched it every night of the shoot.
Worse, far worse, is an edit that denies every performer except Branagh anything like enough screen time to establish their characters. With – deep breath – Dame Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom and Derek Jacobi on the payroll, this should have played out like the ensemble film to end them all.
As it is, only Pfeiffer and Depp really get our attention. The rest are left to mutter a line or throw a murderous glance at Branagh occasionallybut mostly go unseen as Branagh and his moustache chew up all the available screentime. Dench in particular could have been played by a sock puppet for all the time she has been allowed in the light.
Outside, far too obvious prop-snow blows across far too obvious green screen. Inside, Branagh talks. And talks. And talks some more. For a film so utterly driven by dialogue, I would have expected at least one memorable line. But here I am, 20 minutes after the credits rolled and I got nuthin’.
Eventually, after a two-hour display of inept camera work, wasted thespians, listless writing and – I’ll grant you – some brilliant frocks, suits and set-dressing, the solution to the mystery is unveiled. I guess fans of the novel will disagree, but even that seemed to me like a cop-out on a par with ‘‘and then I woke up and it was all a dream’’. My first thought wasn’t ‘‘oh that’s clever’’. It was, ‘‘thank God, it must nearly be over’’.
Yes, will have its fans. Over-produced, over-dressed Brit nonsense with top-shelf casts that are ‘‘just a bit of fun’’ always will and I don’t begrudge them that at all. But if you ask me, this is a smug, clumsy and mismanaged ride to nowhere.