Monday, 26 March 2018

Murder on the Orient Express ★☆☆☆☆

It was at a screening of Blade Runner 2049 that I had my first interaction with Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express. The trailer was, on the surface, fine – we had some lovely shots of the train, some cracking period costumes and a generally elegant feel. Then Imagine Dragons’ Believer invaded the soundscape. Hmmm. Not a great choice for an Agatha Christie thriller, but I get it, you want to look cool ‘4 the kidz’. Then Kenneth Branagh spoke, and revealed his moustache. The audience laughed. Here was one of our finest actors seemingly doing his finest impression of Inspector Clouseau – and not even Peter Sellers. This is more Steve Martin. How the heck was this trailer going to sell the film as a moody thriller if an audience was laughing at the main character?

Watching the film itself is a similar experience. It’s worth noting, first of all, that Kenneth Branagh is the director of this adaptation, so his casting of himself in the iconic lead is nothing short of egotistical. Branagh, or Kenny B/The Branflake as Mindhorn would call him, is a legendary actor and one of this country’s treasures. And if you were Kenneth Branagh, and you were making a Poirot film, of course you would cast yourself as Poirot. But the problem is…Branagh is a shit Poirot. A really shit Poirot. And behind the camera, Branagh isn’t much better. The film bounces wildly between attempts at straight-outta-film-school cocksure swagger and elegant British thrills, never succeeding in either and certainly never settling on one. 

The film isn’t all bad. The visuals are rather nice – although perhaps sometimes a little overly reliant on CGI when a real train surely wouldn’t have been too much trouble. The costumes, hair and make up are fine. The film’s look, on the whole, is perfectly adequate for a period piece like this – but it doesn’t feel particularly cinematic. And the story itself, of course, is superb. Agatha Christie knew what she was doing with her storytelling. But the film itself just felt rushed, forced and forgettable. 

The film boasts a killer cast (pun intended, chortle chortle) but with so many characters, nobody is given enough development for us to care about a single one of them. Recent BBC adaptations have told Christie’s tales over several hours, but Branagh’s attempt is only 1 hour and 45 minutes. There simply isn’t enough time to give each of the 15-strong main cast any time to do anything memorable.

I simply cannot recommend this adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, especially when there are several far better ones already available. Kenneth Branagh has let himself down enormously with this overblown and up-its-own-arse production that, in summary, just feels wholly unnecessary. Branagh is now confirmed to be directing and starring in Death on the Nile in 2019, with the hope of starting up an Agatha Christie cinematic universe. Great. Lucky us… This Murder on the Orient Express will make you wish you were the victim.

Sam Love

Murder on the Orient Express at CeX

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