‘Murder on the Orient Express:’ all style, no substance

*This was my last assignment for The Examiner.  It’ll probably be the last review you see for awhile.  Not only do I have finals week powering towards me like the Orient Express itself, but I have some personal things to work through which take a lot of my energy (so please be patient).  If I don’t get the chance again to say this, have a Merry Christmas!*

 

Hollywood has a serious problem with excessive remakes, if the recent fad of live-action Disney remakes is anything to go by, but when I first heard of a “Murder on the Orient Express” remake, I was excited. The original 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel was OK. The actors (particularly Albert Finney’s charismatic performance as the lead) were entertaining and the mystery was interesting. However, I greatly disliked the beginning and ending. It took a while for the plot to get moving and the resolution, while original and clever, made the rest of the film feel overly-complex.

Flash-forward 43 years and multi-talented British artist Sir Kenneth Branagh brings us his interpretation of the classic book. Is it worth seeing?  Well, yes and no. We’ve got a complicated one today.

“Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) is written by Michael Green and directed by Branagh. Set in the 1930s, impeccable detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) seeks a vacation from solving crimes so he sets to board the Orient Express on its way to France. Much to his horror, a violent murder of one of the train’s passengers was committed overnight and the train is blocked by snow the next morning. Now Poirot must solve the mystery before the train is cleared and the murder can escape… or kill another passenger.

There are many things this movie does right, but there are many more it does wrong.  Branagh shines as Poirot and I haven’t seen better casting for Johnny Depp since “Rango” in 2011. However the rest of the cast, try as they might, never seem to reach their full potential (with the exception of Michelle Pfeiffer).

The movie is presented very well. Creative camerawork, grand music and sleek sets/costumes recreate a bygone era and it’s cool to see. Unfortunately, the movie is not as engaging on a story level.

While the opening scene felt somewhat cartoony, the tone changes from lighthearted and intriguing to dead serious and sad. The second half of the movie felt entirely different that the first. I don’t mind a comedic murder mystery (“Clue” is probably the best example of that subgenre), but the tone should be the same throughout. Otherwise you end up with a movie that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.

As far as what they changed from the original, not too much. The characters are largely the same, the ending is the same (sadly) and I was left with the same unsatisfied feeling I had with the original. Both movies put too much stock in the climax (when the killer is revealed) and not nearly enough with making the characters fun to watch. Granted, they could be worse, but there is almost no rewatchability with these movies.

At the most, they added a few completely unnecessary action sequences and an additional twist which could have been cut completely. As much as I don’t want to say this, there was much more effort behind this movie than most remakes, there is no reason for this film to exist. Not even Branagh’s awesome mustache can save it.

I believe every mystery should warrant a second viewing so the audience can see what they missed or how the killer did it. Such was not the case for this remake. “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) had just enough wit, flashy visuals and intrigue to keep my attention, but only just.

Murder on the Orient Express gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

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