Published On: Fri, Nov 10th, 2017

Orient Express is murder most mediocre: review

Murder on the Orient Express

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Opens Friday at GTA theatres. 115 minutes. PG

Kenneth Branagh’s remake of Murder on the Orient Express is billed as a motion picture. But it might better be thought of as a two-hour moving selfie of the director, who is also the lead star.

Seizing the role of Hercule Poirot, the astounding Belgian detective who enlivens 33 Agatha Christie novels and multifarious media adaptations, Branagh makes sure the camera remembers his face.

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He adopts at all times a piercing gaze akin to that of a disapproving sommelier in a fancy restaurant, whose suggestion of a $ 100 bottle of bubbly has been declined in favour of a half-litre of house plonk.

Get used to looking at director Kenneth Branagh in Murder on the Orient Express.
Get used to looking at director Kenneth Branagh in Murder on the Orient Express.  (Nicola Dove photo)  
Johnny Depp in Murder on the Orient Express.
Johnny Depp in Murder on the Orient Express.  (Nicola Dove photo)  

Branagh’s Poirot is forever on the case, of course, solving everything from elaborate murder plots to why his boiled eggs at breakfast aren’t exactly the same size (“I blame the hen”).

Yet he might more profitably aim those probing peepers towards his reflection in a mirror, to ponder the Mystery of the Ridiculous Moustache. Branagh has expanded Poirot’s signature waxed ’stache to the bushy extreme where it requires its own National Geographic special, one devoted to determining which animal gave up its life so it might sprawl across the fussy sleuth’s mug. (I deduce that it’s a baby grey squirrel, although possibly it’s a chipmunk in disguise or even a fossilized marmot.)

Then there’s Branagh’s atrocious accent, which reduces to comical franglais such famous lines as these: “Zere is right and zere is wrong and zere is nothing in-between!” (Was Jean Dujardin not available for this gig?)

These are unneeded distractions in a film, scripted by Michael Green (Logan, Blade Runner 2049), which barely seems to notice what a fabulous cast it boasts, covering all the familiar characters of this well-told story.

Roll out the boldface: Johnny Depp’s stab-worthy gangster Edward Ratchett; Michelle Pfeiffer’s merry widow Caroline Hubbard; Judi Dench’s exiled Russian Princess Dragomiroff; Penelope Cruz’s holy roller Pilar Estravados; Willem Dafoe’s Austrian enigma Gerhard Hardman; plus other familiar figures played by Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr. and others.

All are poorly employed in a convoluted plot, mostly faithful to Christie’s tale, that even the author herself admitted is a bit of an eye-roller: so many coincidences and murder motives, with a thinly veiled retelling of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby thrown in for good measure.

At least the film looks great. Alexandra Byrne’s flashy costumes are almost worth the price of admission. So is Haris Zambarloukos’ heroic cinematography, which helps lifts the film out of its claustrophobic railway confines — although this version of the Orient Express train, the legendary trans-Europe conveyance, is a sleek steampunk joy to behold.

Whenever Zambarloukos succeeds in pulling the camera out of Branagh’s face, we are treated to awesome vistas of Istanbul, Jerusalem and snow-covered mountain ranges. They made me wish I were on the train, rather than watching the movie.

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Orient Express is murder most mediocre: review