The Bay Chronicle - - SITUATIONS VACANT -

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.

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