Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh, 2017)
So this comes with a weight of expectations and spoilers — is this the one where the detective did it or was it the fourth victim, who faked his death? Branagh had started his film career trying to out Sir Larry Sir Larry with worthy Shakespearean adaptations, but with the odd psychological thriller to show versatility. And the truly dreadful and misnamed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And now a crowd pleaser: an always redundant adaption of the hoary Agatha Christie novel. I think it’s a lose-lose situation: either he’s faithful to the original and we know what’s gonna happen or he’s not and we feel cheated.
Of course it’s probably thirty years since I saw the Albert Finney version of hamming up the Great Belgian Detective, and its version of an all-star cast. So there’s Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ray, Penelope Cruz, Branagh staple Derek Jacobi, the ever delectable Judi Dench, William Dafoe under thick accent to distract us from Branagh’s Clouseau impression, the marked for death and flash back Johnny Depp, Olivia Coleman — criminally demoted from the starring in alphabetic order slides — and half a dozen people you have never heard of.
We open with a religiously sensitive crime where the suspects are a rabbi, a priest and an imam, which the film itself heavy handedly acknowledges sounds like a joke (although maybe not in the 1930s) in Jerusalem in Mandatory Palestine. Poirot sticks his walking stick into the wailing wall, risks a riot and solves the crime, claiming in Palestine of all places that there is good and bad and no inbetween.
Can you guess a lesson is about to be learned?
So we have an hour of the usual suspects, refugees from Cluedo, being grilled two-by-two — “I moustache you to stay in your compartments” and “I moustache you to stay in the dining car” and “I moustache you to sit in a tunnel at a table so you resemble, n’est ce pas, La Supper Dernière”. There’s a claustrophobia which is fought against by repeated overhead shots or sweeping around Poirot trudging through the snow on top of the train and a pointless bridge chase.
And finally we get to the point that we either always already knew or feel cheated for the first time, and Poirot suddenly realises there’s a shade between good and bad and refuses to dispense justice — although the previous crime we saw him solve ended in honour being observed in a rather tossed away manner.
Do we care? Do we know any more than we did at the beginning? Where does the Woman, one that got away or died, fit in?
And from a failed holiday, he heads off, self satisfied as ever, to the Nile and a crime whose gimmick I can’t recall from the days of Albert Finney.
Personally, I think this serves as an ITV treat for Boxing Day evening, as you demolish the liqueur chocolates. 65mm for a hugely CGId location just seems like a pointless confection.