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Murder On The Orient Express
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Murder on the Orient Express Blu-rayUnited States 299 56 10 Blu-ray + DVD + Di
Based on Agatha Christie’s classic mystery novel.
Director: Kenneth Branagh.
Writers: Michael Green, Agatha Christie.
Starring: Tom Bateman, Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp.
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The ensemble was not further developed because they are not supposed to be. As in all of Christie’s novels, the limited cast of characters are all suspects in a murder investigation. The reader’s/viewer’s interest in the characters is supposed to be piqued by each suspect, and left wanting until the end. The performances here were restrained and limited, in the service of a murder mystery, not wasted.
Similarly, the complaint from critics that the end was flat betray certain expectations for a big-budget movie that are simply not to be met in a Hercule Poirot story. Every single story will always end with Poirot explaining to all the suspects who the killer was. This type of scene is easier to adapt to the stage than to film, but Branaugh succeeded in some powerful imagery and drama in this scene to make it have the full weight of a climactic ending. The gratification at the end of a Christie novel is that it all makes sense and though the reader (likely) did not figure it out, the little grey cells of a well-groomed, peculiar Belgian detective did. Without spoiling anything, Murder On the Orient Express is famous because Christie does something slightly different with the formula here. This was handled very well and had all the drama it needed. The plot-driven, dialogue-driven Poirot story plays well for British television audiences in the 80’s and 90’s, but I can see why it would seem unspectacular for $15 in 2017 America. I’m glad we didn’t have some absurdly out-of-place action scene at the end.
I loved the movie. But I’m extremely biased. I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot, as well as Kenneth’s Branaugh’s acting and directing. But I’m also a huge Transformers fan, and that can’t make me like those movies—in fact, it makes me all the more disappointed with them (Well, I would be disappointed with them if I kept watching them). If you’ve read and appreciate Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels, this movie is definitely for you. If you enjoy a good murder mystery, you will love this one. It is beautifully shot and well-written. The characterization of Poirot here is perfect. I think the Queen of Crime would’ve been proud of this adaptation and I’m hoping for a sequel or two or three. There are about 70 stories to choose from.
P.S. I might add, the marketing might be part of the problem with a movie like this. "Cool, Sexy, Powerful," according to somebody. But it wasn't cool or sexy which was a breath of fresh air. Also that Imagine Dragons song on the trailer might have given people the wrong idea...thankfully there was no Imagine Dragons in the movie.
I'll try to explain why Branagh's vision is different without too many spoilers, but that's not easy. So you might want to stop reading if you're interested in seeing the film and don't already know the basic storyline of <i>Murder on the Orient Express</i>.
Lumet's movie is deservedly one of the classics of the whodunnit genre, a straightforward adaptation of Christie's novel. Branagh, on the other hand, challenges the fundamental premise of that genre: that crime is first and foremost a puzzle to be solved. That's certainly the mindset that Poirot begins with, and establishing that is the purpose of the extended sequence in Jerusalem before he ever gets to Istanbul and the train. Critics have claimed that this segment is unnecessary, which would be true only if Branagh were simply crafting a remake of the earlier film. But that's not where he is going.
As the movie plays out, the plot challenges not only Poirot's investigative skills, but his most basic assumptions about what it is that he does. The man who starts out saying, "There is right. There is wrong. There is no in-between," finds that it isn't so easy. I honestly cannot fathom how someone can watch this film and say that the ending is flat. It isn't the story that's drained at the end; it's Poirot's world view and sense of self.
While Poirot is the protagonist, the fulcrum of the film is Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard. The contrast between her performance and that of Lauren Bacall in the same role in 1974 couldn't be starker. Bacall's Hubbard was hard all the way through, with nothing left inside but anger. As Hubbard, Pfeiffer is a hard shell wrapped around infinite anguish. From the moment she first confronts Ratchett as they are boarding the train, to her final shot as Poirot is leaving the train, there are layers that she fights to keep hidden. It is only in the summation scene, when Poirot has revealed all of his cards, when she literally removes her wig and unpins her hair to reveal her true self, that she lets her real feelings out. She obliterates all of the moral authority that Poirot has tried to build through his investigation and leaves him unmoored in the storm. It is an acting performance that deserves far more recognition than it is getting.
If what you want is a straightforward whodunnit, this is not the right version of <i>Murder on the Orient Express</i> to watch. The assemblage of the clues is much clumsier than Lumet produced; all references to the ultimate significance of the broken watch seem to have ended up on the cutting room floor. And, yes, that ridiculous moustache is distracting, though that is its purpose: it marks out the Poirot of the movie's beginning as himself ridiculous. But if you aren't wedded to that genre, and want to see a movie that is as much drama as it is mystery, give it a try.