MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS: Author Agatha Christie was the undisputed grand dame of “locked room” murder mysteries where a homicide and all its’ suspects were in a confined space. What made this literary formula so readable was that the clues were always on the page in front of you even though you may have been surprised when the killer was revealed. That vicarious enjoyment is sorely missing from Michael Green’s screenplay which derails (Pun intended.) this “reworking” of the 1974 movie (See CLOSING CREDITS.) that starred Albert Finney (TOM JONES) as Belgian detective “par excellence” Hercule Poirot. This time around, director Kenneth Branagh (HENRY V) steps into the role of the super sleuth who’s so meticulous that he insists on his poached eggs being the same size. In a subsequent scene, he accidentally steps one of his shoes into a fresh pile of camel dung only to put the uncontaminated shoe in the mess as well to “achieve balance”. (Which seems to me like something an unbalanced person would do.) Poirot’s skills are on full display in a clever opening sequence where his verbose revelation of a real thief in Jerusalem saves an imam, priest and rabbi from a potential lynch mob. From there, he proceeds to a holiday that’s rudely interrupted when a killing occurs on the title train filled with an all-star cast that’s given too little to do. There isn’t much to recommend a “whodunit” where it sort of feels like the “big reveal” is who the victim is (Which isn’t a reveal at all if you’ve read the book or seen any other versions of the work on film or television.). The climactic denouement (Warning, Will Robinson! Plot spoiler dead ahead.) in which all the passengers are called out as conspirators and participants owing to their implausible connections with an infant’s abduction, a la the real-life Lindbergh baby kidnapping, had me slapping my forehead while declaring “Noooo. I’m not buying this”. Not all the baggage aboard this cinematic train needs to be thrown out though. Haris Zambarloukos’s cinematography utilizes unusual camera angles and breathtaking scenery to establish setting and Alexandra Byrne’s costume design nicely reflects the ‘30s era styles. But the best mysteries rely on credible writing and in this flick, it totally goes off the rails (Pun intended again.).
CRITIC’S GRADE: C
CLOSING CREDITS: Directed by Sidney Lumet (DOG DAY AFTERNOON), the 1974 film version of this Agatha Christie novel was an elegant, all-star production that featured Lauren Bacall (TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT), Sean Connery (THE UNTOUCHABLES), John Gielgud (ARTHUR) and Vanessa Redgrave (JULIA) among the players. As Hercule Poirot, Albert Finney was practically unrecognizable and Ingrid Bergman won her third Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The movie’s international success spawned some lavishly produced follow-ups like DEATH ON THE NILE (1978), which is indirectly referred to at the conclusion of the new film, and EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982) in which the portly Poirot is portrayed in both works by Peter Ustinov (SPARTACUS). There were also two made-for-television movies in 2001 and 2010 which you probably don’t remember because like most made-for-television movies, they were imminently forgettable.