Murder On The Orient Express - This Old Fashioned Movie Rocks The Rails It Rides On
Dir: Kenneth Branagh
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Daisey Ridley, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr, Olivia Colman, Tom Bateman, Lucy Boynton
You can tell what kind of a movie this Murder On The Orient Express is going to be when you first gauge the girth of Branagh’s moustache. This is a straightforward, old-fashioned melodrama, painted in broad strokes and acted with the knowledge that scenery is sometimes there to be chewed. None more so than by Branagah himself, who adds depth to Agatha Christie’s perennial ‘tec Hecrule Poirot, in the same measure that he brings a great and sumptuous visual style in his role as the film’s director.
For all his renown as a master of the stage, it never ceases to amaze us here at Last Word just how undervalued Branagh is as a filmmaker. The man has a remarkable cinematic eye and understanding of film that he brings to both passion projects (go back to Peter’s Friends and see his early fondness for the long single performance-led take) as he does to generic action (Jack Ryan) as he does to big scale blockbusters (Thor.) Here he manages to take one of the most claustrophobic environments of all – a snow bound train – and make it feel alive and full of activity, duplicity and intrigue. From inventive shots – note the overhead discovery of the (unseen) dead body of Depp’s “Gangster” to the final tunnel-framed last supper reveal, to his opening his film at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The man really understands how to use a camera. It almost goes without saying that he also knows how to handle the odd actor or two. Here his all star cast all acquit themselves well, with top marks going to young Ridley and Bateman, who both excel here amongst a solid ensemble.
It's fair to say that once Poirot gets down to the repetitive nitty gritty of interviewing each of the several suspects one by one, the film loses some of its momentum, both visually and in terms of driving the plot towards its (incredibly well known!) climax.
But Branagh should be commended for knowing exactly what kind of movie he is making, relishing it – even basking it at times (yes, we’re back to the moustache) – and keeping it working for a contemporary audience without ever stooping to modernising it. It remains, as it always has been, a cracking yarn, well told.
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