“Orient Express:” An Uneven Ride

Penelope Cruz is one of the stars of “Orient Express”

 

BY JACKSON MURPHY
Staff Writer

“Murder on the Orient Express” is based on the iconic Agatha Christie novel, which was turned into a film in 1974 that earned six Oscar nominations and a Best Supporting Supporting Actress win for Ingrid Bergman. The best chance this new adaptation has for an Oscar nom may be for Makeup and Hairstyling – simply for the incredible mustache worn by Kenneth Branagh’s Detective Poirot.
Branagh not only has the starring role, as “probably the greatest detective in the world” – a title Poirot gives to himself – but he’s also the director of this remake. He incorporates some cool camera angles in the cramped quarters of the train – peering down into tight spaces from overhead, playing with mirrors, and keeping you locked-in on Poirot’s searing blue eyes.
Outside of those elements, there isn’t a whole lot of intrigue attached to this “Orient Express” journey, which is a shame considering this is a “who-done-it” with a highly accomplished all-star cast. The set-up is simple: It’s the mid-1930s. A random group of 13 passengers board a train traveling from Turkey to France. Early in the trip one of them is murdered in his cabin. And it’s up to Poirot to solve the crime.
Unfortunately the murder doesn’t take place before a long, early exchange between Branagh and Johnny Depp (who plays Mr. Ratchett, the victim). This scene is so low-key I felt like needed to find a sleeper car.
And things don’t get much better once the investigation begins. At one point Poirot abruptly reveals a fact that comes from so far out of left field that it destroys any fun the audience might have in playing along with clues – and confusion lingers throughout the rest of the film.
Each of the suspects gets his/her interrogation scene, giving Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad and Daisy Ridley obligatory screen time. None stand-out and provide no inspiration to make you care which one is the murderer. And as for the big reveal at the end, it not only leaves you dry, but with a huge question thanks to a major flaw in the script.
This is a good looking film: costumes, majestic mountain scenery (though it’s mostly digital) and Pfeiffer sings a song during the end credits. But as a compelling murder mystery, this express is way off track.

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