REVIEW: ‘MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS’

November 28, 2017

 

@KennethBranagh: When you try your best but don’t succeed! #MurderOrient

It is one of Agatha Christie’s most celebrated and beloved murder mysteries, with numerous television and film adaptations to its name. The infamous Murder on the Orient Express!

 

To summarise the case in hand, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is prompted to return to London immediately after solving a case of theft in Jerusalem. After a little faffing about trying to arrange first class travel and almost having to settle for second, we join Poirot on his journey aboard the Orient Express. To add a little drama to this otherwise travel documentary, a gnarly gangster happens to be murdered on the train. It is then down to Poirot to unravel the secrets of the passengers and detect the killer, so that everyone can finally get on their way again.

 

To fill you with even more promise, we are treated to this story in the helms of distinguished actor and director Kenneth Branagh, who is attempting to give this classic thriller a new lease of life. Starring a sensational choice of A-listers plucked straight from any cinemagoer’s heavenly Hollywood dreams, surely nothing could stop this train from reaching its destination.

 

Beginning with stunning opening scenes at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Branagh whisks you away to the picturesque beauty of the Middle East. There is no denying that the sequences are very tasteful, showing right from the very start early promise for majestic movie making. Well aware of how to wow his audience, the detail of the Orient Express once aboard itself is simply delightful with a couple of impressive tracking shots used as Poirot manoeuvres his way through the train and past his future suspects. It is easily one of the most stylish films you will see in 2017, but that soon ceases to impress as the train leaves the station.

 

In what can only be described as an incredible let down, our train grinds to a halt and so does the action. Failing to meet audience expectations, this classic whodunit quickly loses the plot. That is if you have not already tipped your head into your hands at the mere site of the monstrosity that is Branagh’s choice of moustache for Poirot; an unnecessary quirk to heighten Poirot’s eccentricity through appearance rather than character. As for his take on the detective, hammy does not even cover it and while many new fans to the Poirot series may be amused, he lacks the precision predecessor David Suchet gave to this wonderful persona. One thing Poirot should never be is unexciting.

 

As for the A-list cast that we were expecting, there was hardly any time for any of our dazzling Hollywood darlings to shine. This is without doubt, and disappointingly so, the Kenneth Branagh show. A classic Poirot murder mystery is at its best with a suspect-driven focus leaving the audience frazzled with incomplete knowledge of a case that only Poirot (probably the greatest detective in the world) can solve. Yet, here we are with some of the world’s finest acting talents, from Judi Dench to Derek Jacobi. They are left with hardly anything to do but sit in the dining cart giving each other the odd distrusting glance. Be mindful, if you blink you might miss it. A quick and easy pay cheque for these first-rate talents who might as well return to the roles that made their name (I’m looking at you Daisy Ridley). It is such a shame that each of the performances lack any significant impact. On the bright side, it is lovely to finally see the silver screen return of Michelle Pfieffer, who has arguably starred in more chart-topping singles than movies as of late.

 

It has been documented time and time again that Agatha Christie was a hard lady to please. Boy, you can see why. Did Branagh come close to delivering Christie’s perfect murder mystery? No. In a disappointing self-indulgent production, it is time for Mr. Branagh to just admit that he tried his best, but most certainly did not succeed.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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