Mur­der on the Ori­ent Express

Dis­ap­point­ing re­make of Agatha Christie’s clas­sic who­dunit Dir: Ken­neth Branagh 1hr 54mins (12A)

The Week Middle East - - Arts -

Play­ing Her­cule Poirot is not for the faint-hearted, said Matthew Bond in The Mail on Sun­day. For many, Agatha Christie’s fas­tid­i­ous Bel­gian de­tec­tive was defini­tively em­bod­ied by David Suchet on the small screen; Peter Usti­nov also ex­celled in the role in six Hol­ly­wood movies; and Al­bert Fin­ney was Os­carnom­i­nated for his turn in Sid­ney Lumet’s star-stud­ded 1974 ver­sion of Mur­der on the Ori­ent Express. Yet none of this de­terred Ken­neth Branagh from seiz­ing “the ba­ton”. And his chutz­pah is re­warded: his re­make is “a pe­riod de­light” fea­tur­ing “a riot of crys­tal glass­ware, ma­hogany-lined rail­way car­riages” and “the most ex­trav­a­gant mous­tache since Gen­eral Kitch­ener”. One ma­jor prob­lem with any at­tempt to reshoot this story is that a lot of peo­ple already know the plot, said Rob­bie Collin in The Daily Tele­graph. It is 1934: the lux­ury train, en route from Is­tan­bul to Paris, crammed with sus­pi­cious pas­sen­gers, is halted by an avalanche. Some­one is mur­dered. Poirot in­ves­ti­gates, and the cul­prit turns out to be… The daz­zling cast in­cludes Judi Dench as a Rus­sian princess, Willem Dafoe as an Aus­trian pro­fes­sor and Pené­lope Cruz as a Span­ish mis­sion­ary. Yet mostly they just “chug along”, said Grant Rollings in The Sun. The ex­cep­tion is Michelle Pfeif­fer, who works up a good head of steam as a flir­ta­tious widow. By con­trast, Daisy Ri­d­ley as a prim gov­erness “has all the glam­our and re­li­a­bil­ity of the South­ern Rail service to Craw­ley”, while the mum­bling of Johnny Depp play­ing a spivvy gang­ster, is “less in­tel­li­gi­ble than a con­course an­nouncer”. Mat­ters aren’t helped by Branagh’s “baf­flingly er­ratic” di­rec­to­rial style, said Kevin Ma­her in The Times. His cam­era “bounces be­tween over­head shots, swoop­ing crane shots, shots through glass, shots un­der the train”. More dis­tract­ing still is his vast mous­tache. It looks as if “two ter­ri­fied grey squir­rels” have been “sur­gi­cally at­tached to his face”. In the role of Poirot, the ac­tor is “mon­strously mis­cast, al­beit by him­self”, said Matthew Nor­man in the London Evening Stan­dard. He’s too “tall, thin, ath­letic and good-look­ing” for a char­ac­ter who’s fa­mously none of those things. Per­haps that un­der­ly­ing fear is what in­duced him to take re­search into his role so se­ri­ously; re­port­edly, he pre­pared by lis­ten­ing “to record­ings of 27 dif­fer­ent Bel­gian ac­cents by gentle­men of Poirot’s age speak­ing in English”. In the event, he sounds like the café-owner in ‘Allo ‘Allo!, said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail. His film isn’t a straight re­run of the 1974 ver­sion: its pro­duc­tion val­ues are higher and we get an un­ex­pected in­sight into the de­tec­tive’s life, as he “moons over a pho­to­graph of a lost lover”. Yet I’m sorry to say, none of this ul­ti­mately ex­plains why “the Ori­ent Express has been hauled out of the sid­ings”.

Depp: part of a daz­zling cast that “chugs along”

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