27th Jan2020

‘Murder on the Orient Express’ VOD Review

by Chris Thomas

Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Tom Bateman, Josh Gad, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Adam Garcia, Lucy Boynton, Michelle Pfeiffer | Written by Michael Green | Directed by Kenneth Branagh


I recently expressed my enjoyment of Hercule Poirot in my review of Knives Out, a film I thoroughly enjoyed… This has led me to find Murder on the Orient Express on VOD, a move I am now regretting, more than a butler who has stabbed their erstewhile employer with a fish knife after misreading a telegram that implied they stood to benefit from a new will.

We have all the pieces for a period piece murder mystery humdinger – an all star cast of both Hollywood and UK heavyweights, and yet, alas dear Jenkins the end result is bafflingly half baked and souless (not that I make a habit of baking things with a soul).

My confusion at how awful (Sir) Kenneth Branagh is in the key role is doubled when I realise that he also directed this half raw turkey.

To look at it broadly, there is nothing in this project that is any way arresting or interesting. The plot is dull and the story is badly told. The characters are poorly defined arcetypes, all of which have secrets they are desperate to protect but, despite the incredible cast (plus Johnny Depp) the whole thing is lifeless and uninteresting. Perhaps everyone was so intent on their various, silly accents they didn’t get a chance to get above the parapit and do some good acting, having said that, the script is very dull.

There is a classic story in here, and classic stories are often old, and old stories tend to come with their own challenges, however this film seems to fall for all the mistakes associated with making a “classic” but also runs into a load of problems you might fall into making a modern film.

Part of the joy of this original story is, being in this guilded prison, with no way out and one of our associates is a killer. It is a claustrophobic and paranoid nightmare on wheels, that also happens to offer a first class dining experience. Sadly, between the sweeping shots and the CGI train we get none of this interest, let alone intensity.

Perhaps Branagh simply had too much to do, in front of and behind the camera, but I am sorry to say, his Poirott is rubbish. He has an extraordinary mostache, but that moustache is nothing when put up next to the master on this front, Suchet. It is as if Braghan realised he needed a new, and bold reimaginging for the film and instead came up with a strange moustache.

In Knives Out our detective featured the piercing, blue eyes of a man that can peer into your very soul. In Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot has the azure blue eyes of a David Lynch, Fremen but none of the sense of Godly interstanding or intelect.

We are constantly reminded that he is a World-famous detective, and yet there is never anything interesting or arresting in his process, or how he reaches his conculsions… there is a dash of Holmes brilliantly and theatrically revealing the clues that led him to draw his startling conclusions, but here there is the sense that Poirot learns things at the speed of plot and watching him unravelling the mystery is a dull chore.

Part of why I like Suchet’s Poirot, is, I suspect few people actually like Poirot. They take him for his “gift” of solving crimes, the conceit they have to take as part of the package. Branagh’s Poirot is positioned in a more likeable, sympathetic and human way. Early on we are told that for him, there is the truth and falsehood, and there is no middleground whatsoever, by the end we are dealing with someone fighting against their principles to do the right thing, which sounds interesting, and yet, it isn’t. Poirot’s endless love of humanity is laid on very thick. It just doesn’t work. At the end, he scolds a soldier for not tucking in his tie, so it all seems quite confused.

Poirot also spends a good deal of the film looking at an old photo of a lady, it doesn’t make anything more interesting, anyway, I prefer to think of Poirot as either homosexual or even asexual, a man obsessed with not only solving crimes but being seen to solve crimes. Perhaps part of the problem, in all this is the lack of an effective foil, and some plot development and character decisions are odd and jarring.

The ending implies further adventures are on the way, and, with a new director I would be interested to see what Branagh can do as Poirot, if only he can stop focusing on all the wrong things.


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