Murder on the Orient Express
Disappointing remake of Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit Dir: Kenneth Branagh 1hr 54mins (12A)
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”