Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Country: USA, Malta
Language: English, French
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenwriter: Michael Green
based on the novel by Agatha Christie
Music: Patrick Doyle
Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos
Leslie Odom Jr.
For the sheer grandeur of its production design, Kenneth Branagh’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS reboot is something should be fully appreciated on the silver screen, shot in 65mm film (a rara avis today), the period setting which it punctiliously re-enacts is a fetching treatment for a sore eye (although it would soon give way to a single-location detective procedurals when the train is halted on a truss by an avalanche amid the white wilderness), but for those who have watched Sydney Lumet’s 1974 version, this redux can only eat humble pie, both in regard to its structural design and the central interpretation of Agatha Christie’s beloved Belgian gumshoe Hercule Poirot.
For starters, the murder mystery is almost exactly the same as its antecedent, whether it is due to the hallowed reverence to its source material or screenwriter Michael Green’s incapability to ginger up the whodunit scenario, clearly and dishearteningly, slavish safety is the keynote to adhere when it comes to remakes, why bother if there is no substantial upgrade in the making? A transposition to 21st century would be a nice idea for instance.
Perhaps, just to gather a star-studded ensemble can justify its own existence, with Branagh’s gonzo-moustachioed Poirot hogging the spotlight, who is even granted a tepid prologue comes about in the Wailing Wall to introduce his fastidious quirks, and Branagh infuses an edgier temperament into Poirot’s no-grey-zone presence of mind, but the over-familiarity of Sherlock Holmes is a dangerous sign of losing the detective’s own distinction (since the Nile-cruising sequel has already been green-lit), also his underdeveloped omniscience begins to tell when magically, he gets the hang of everyone’s carefully concealed identities, bearing in mind it is a time before Google, everyone!
Approximately 10 minutes is fairly doled out to each of the rest core members of the cast, where most of the sequences are commonplace shot-reverse-shots and red-herrings are dished up, save some innovative camera arrangements either looking from the ceiling or outside the train. But despite the embarrassment of starry richness, only Michelle Pfeiffer’s widow Caroline Hubbard (channeling some more soft-headed levity against Lauren Bacall’s stern predecessor), manages to steal some thunder in the reveal, plus lending her exquisite voice in the song “NEVER FORGET” over the end credits.
The biggest artistic license is needless to say, the gorgeous THE LAST SUPPER tableaux vivants when Poirot pompously solves the puzzle, we must hand it to Branagh for the flourish, only pitifully it is also at the expense of the film’s own plausibility, because the whole act conspicuously reminds us, as if there were no other passengers on the supposedly fully-booked Orient Express other than those circumspectly postured suspects, or rather, alluding to a more dismayingly insidious note, that the class stratification has completely forbidden those in the less fancy coaches to even disembark the train whereas those privileged few are allowed to step out of harm’s way in face of their final judgement, this really stings.
referential point: Sydney Lumet’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974, 8.8/10).