By Troy Ribeiro
Film: “Murder on the Orient Express”; Director: Kenneth Branagh; Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Boynton, Manuel Garcia Rulfo, Sergei Polunin and Tom Bateman; Rating: **1/2
Director Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is a remake of the 1974 Oscar-winning film which is adapted from Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name.
Set in 1934, the film begins in the most theatrical fashion with the author’s beloved and notoriously gifted Belgian sleuth Hercules Poirot, enacted by Kenneth Branagh himself, taking centre-stage, in Jerusalem. His over-the-top drama for perfection is intriguing but at the same time irritating, but that’s the way his character was envisaged.
Soon, he is enroute to London on the famous luxury train The Orient Express. A few days into the trip, just after midnight, the train is stopped on its tracks by a snowdrift at a precarious and breathtakingly cinematic stretch. By morning, the unpleasant American businessman Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is found dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times and his door locked from inside.
One of his fellow passengers, confined to the first and second-class compartment, who might have had access to Ratchett’s cabin must be the murderer. How Poirot interviews each of the suspects to reveal a complex set of candour and deceit, that invites the audience to test their detective skills to identify the killer, forms the crux of the tale.
Among the ensemble, too many and ultimately too confusing to enumerate, are an unpleasant Russian Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), an undercover detective Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe), a fiercely fanatic Spanish missionary Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz), an opportunistic widow Mrs Hubbard (Michelle Pfeigger), a mysterious doctor Arbuthnot (Leslie Odam Jr), his friend Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), Poirot’s cabin mate and Ratchett’s employee, Hector McQueen (Josh Gad) and the director of the Orient Express Mr. Bouc (Tom Bateman).
Each one of them possess a wildly different character type and are given ample on-screen time to chew their characters, but unfortunately they all seem wasted as the narrative grows blase real fast, where in real life, one would think panic would have set in more.
Apart from the story, there are many things to gawk at when watching this film. Haris Zambarloukos’s camera work is outstandingly brilliant. His every frame is picture perfect. From the sweeping landscapes to the way the camera angles, helped move the story along. Shot on 65mm film, this format is a connoisseur’s delight and always adds extra pleasure in the form of greater visual detail and sumptuousness.
Visually, the film is a delight. It has a soft and mysterious quality to its tone, sometimes reaching poetic levels. But then, there is a lot of production value gained by the grand CGI train shots, especially during the avalanche sequence, which felt a bit phony.
Without a doubt, the film is wonderfully directed but the screenplay ranks pretty low on the scale in terms of screenwriter Michael Greens’s previous works. As far as twists and turns go, the writer and director did their very best to trick the audience, but the outcome is definitely very strange.
Everything leading up to the eventual murder on the train is interesting. Thereafter, the graph slides downwards, making the rest of the film feel sort of irrelevant. (IANS)