“Not another remake!” is a familiar online cry normally accompanied by declarations that Hollywood has run out of ideas.
Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express has been regularly re-crafted for screen. So there was a lot of online negativity around director-star Kenneth Branagh’s new blockbuster version. A perfectly good, Oscar-nominated 1974 Sidney Lumet adaptation already exists, so there was no need…
Au contraire, mon ami! OK, no need maybe, but judging by the box office audiences were attracted to this gorgeous production which loses a lot of the mystery and suspense of the Lumet version, while upping the action.
Fast forward to the plot…
We meet Poirot in Jerusalem as he closes a silly jewel theft case which is easily the dullest bit. Then he’s on the Orient thundering west across Europe when an avalanche derails the train. Trapped high in the stunning Alps, a passenger named Ratchett is murdered, making everyone in First Class a suspect.
This brings us to yet controversy people have with the movie – Ratchett is played by none other than alleged train wreck Johnny Depp.
Depp-boycotters should know that despite starring prominently in the marketing bumf, he plays a) the most hateful character and b) is swiftly bumped off, with a troupe of Hollywood actors all in the frame for his brutal stabbing. They should have cast Harvey Weinstein as a baggage handler.
It could have been Judi Dench’s Russian princess. Or Michelle Pfeiffer’s vampy husband-hunter. Or maybe it was Penélope Cruz’s missionary so reminiscent of her early role in All About My Mother.
Luckily the world’s self-proclaimed “greatest detective” is on hand. David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot in the long-running BBC series is still considered closest to Christie’s peculiar egghead creation. Where Suchet was an odd duck, Branagh’s detective is eccentric by way of a comedy Belgian accent and an OTT moustache.
Although critics have insisted that it “offers nothing new,” there’s an achingly relevant younger cast, including Beauty and the Beast’s Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley (a less grating Keira Knightley), and rising actress Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) as a enigmatic aristocrat. Leslie Odom Jr. (Tony winner for Hamilton) is Dr Arbuthnot – played in ’74 by that old dinosaur Sean Connery.
The contemporary cast open the story up with different races, nationalities and ages – even if everyone only gets a thin slice of screen time. Michelle Pfeiffer alone is worth seeing.
Cinema continues to modernize and amaze us, and Orient is an immersive experience, capturing the allure of the golden age of travel. There’s a much raved-about epic five minute 65mm Steadicam closing shot. Perhaps I liked this film for superficial reasons, but it was surprisingly poignant, presenting a moral conundrum for Poirot – the man who sees everything as right or wrong with no in-between.
Leaving me only to add that I didn’t cry at the end when the Patrick Doyle score was playing. I got some orange juice in my eye, and anyone who says otherwise is 100% lying.