Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press

The Guardian Weekly - - Culture - Peter Brad­shaw r

The word “sheer” is miss­ing from the be­gin­ning of the ti­tle. Like a dusty and long-locked dis­play room in Madame Tus­sauds, this movie show­cases an al­ls­tar cast in pe­riod cos­tume, each of whom must sup­press his or her star qual­ity in the cause of be­ing part of an all-star cast. It is a new ver­sion of Agatha Christie’s 1934 de­tec­tive mys­tery, all about a grisly killing on board a train that is ma­rooned in snow. Ken­neth Branagh, pic­tured, di­rects and plays the leg­endary Bel­gian sleuth Her­cule Poirot with an un­fea­si­bly large ’tache, ac­ces­sorised with a demi-goa­tee be­neath the lower lip and a pep­per-and-salt colour­ing over­all.

The film’s old-fash­ioned lux­ury stylings pay homage to Sid­ney Lumet’s own A-lis­ter­crammed ver­sion from 1974 and the film seems to be test­ing the wa­ters for a lu­cra­tive new Bond­style fran­chise, the next ca­per be­ing Death on the Nile. This Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press gives the story a slightly more mod­ern per­spec­tive; some of the races are changed and the era’s at­ti­tudes chal­lenged, al­though there is a smug gag about a cheery pros­ti­tute at the be­gin­ning that could come straight from the seedy-so­phis­ti­cate 70s.

Poirot boards the renowned Ori­ent Ex­press in Is­tan­bul, head­ing for Calais. Join­ing him are the can­tan­ker­ous White Rus­sian Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and her maid Hilde­garde Sch­midt (Olivia Col­man); de­mure gov­erness Mary Deben­ham (Daisy Ri­d­ley), who may have some con­nec­tion with Dr Ar­buth­not (Les­lie Odom Jr); sin­is­ter Ger­man aca­demic Ger­hard Hard­man (Willem Dafoe); a mousily re­li­gious Pi­lar Es­trava­dos (Pené­lope Cruz); man­hunt­ing Amer­i­can widow Mrs Hub­bard (Michelle Pfeif­fer); sat­ur­nine Rus­sian dancer Count An­drenyi (real-life bal­let star Sergei Pol­unin) and his trou­bled wife, Count­ess An­drenyi (Lucy Boyn­ton); and ge­nial busi­ness­man Mar­quez (Manuel Gar­cia-Rulfo). There is also a crooked Amer­i­can art dealer, Ratch­ett (Johnny Depp), ac­com­pa­nied by his butler, Master­man (Derek Ja­cobi), and pri­vate sec­re­tary, Hec­tor MacQueen (Josh Gad). One of these peo­ple is found mur­dered – sub­ject to a fren­zied stab­bing.

What a mouth­wa­ter­ing cast it looks. And yet, of all these char­ac­ters, only Ratch­ett is given any­thing like the nec­es­sary space to live and breathe.

When the crime is an­nounced, the nar­ra­tive clock­work is as­sumed to have been set in mo­tion. Yet some­thing about the story it­self goes dead at that mo­ment, re­viv­ing only with the big re­veal at the end, for which Poirot as­sem­bles the sus­pects out­side, all seated at some sort of last­sup­per tres­tle ta­ble. Car­ry­ing that thing around on the train must have been a pain. This film never gets up a head of steam.

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