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FILM REVIEW: Murder On The Orient Express

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FILM: Murder on the Orient Express
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
YEAR: 2017
SYNOPSIS: A lavish trip through Europe quickly unfolds into a race against time to solve a murder aboard a train. When an avalanche stops the Orient Express dead in its tracks, the world’s greatest detective — Hercule Poirot — arrives to interrogate all passengers and search for clues before the killer can strike again.


Review by Melissa Lee.

Murder on the Orient Express is arguably one of Agatha Christie’s most well-known detective novels. When plans to remake the film adaptation were first announced, fans of Christie and the mystery genre were thrilled. Eventually, five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh was announced to direct and star as the lead character, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, sparking an increase in public anticipation. Along with a star-studded cast of A-listers that included Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Dame Judi Dench and current silver screen favourite Daisy Ridley (of Star Wars: The Force Awakens fame), it seemed like this project simply could not go wrong.

Unfortunately, Murder on the Orient Express does not pack the substance necessary to carry the weight of such expectations.

The film starts off finely — Branagh successfully establishes Poirot as the obnoxiously fastidious, amusingly quirky detective that fans of Christie’s novels will already know and love. He exerts a smooth, skilful control on all facets of Poirot’s personality, from the detective’s unsympathetic bluntness to his amiable geniality and unwavering confidence in his friends and allies.

Surprisingly, it’s only when the rest of the cast arrive on the scene that the film’s pace takes a turn for the downright dreary.

Now, it has to be said that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the cast’s performances. Each one of them plays their part with no notable missteps or failings. All the same, it felt like something was always lacking from each actor’s delivery — most notably from Ridley as the guarded governess, Mary Debenham. Johnny Depp as the art dealer tycoon, Samuel Ratchett, is certainly the bigger disappointment considering Depp’s thirty-year career in showbiz. Ultimately, both Mary and Ratchett are miles more interesting than the performances given by their actors, and it feels like something of a missed opportunity.

Out of the entire cast, the only one who appears to be completely unafflicted by this dismal tepidness is Michelle Pfeiffer. She turns in a delicious performance as Caroline Hubbard, and consistently managed to be the only one whom I was genuinely interested in watching or listening to whenever she appeared onscreen.

While Kenneth Branagh’s performance in front of the camera remains solid if a little inconsistent towards the end, his competencies behind it are a question mark. In true Branagh style, everything looks absolutely fantastic, from the settings to the costumes to the props. If there’s anyone who knows how to make a period film look this good, it’s Kenneth Branagh.

Unfortunately, while Branagh’s plain, thespianic style served him well for Shakespearean adaptations like 1993’s Much Ado About Nothing, it backfires somewhat on a film of this genre. He seems to rely almost entirely on Christie’s source material to do most of the heavy lifting for him, especially when it comes to building suspense and emotional impact.

Moments that should be used to heighten anticipation are wasted on stylistic shots. At times, the camera lingers far too long on certain characters when it would have been far more effective to present the reaction of others. Several of the scenes are far too slow-paced in addition to dragging on for far too long, and the movie could have greatly benefited from a more rigorous hand in the editing room.

The Murder on the Orient Express remake is not a bad one by any means. It remains technically faithful to its source material, but does not succeed in elevating it. In fact, it fails to match or even surpass the quality of the original 1974 adaptation helmed by Sidney Lumet.

All in all, the 2017 version is new, but certainly not improved.


ABOUT THE WRITER

Melissa Lee is a communication graduate with an enduring interest in film and TV and a deeper, more concerning interest for the Wikipedia and IMDB Trivia pages that accompany them. Her spare time is usually spent in a movie theatre or in front of a TV/computer with Netflix going at full speed. She also likes to think she’s an avid reader, but, alas, moving pictures on a bright screen are far more engaging for those individuals blessed with the attention span of a five-year-old, such as herself.

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