The poster for the film was undoubtedly its highlight, a true disappointment from Branagh20TH CENTURY FOX

The poster for Murder on the Orient Express is a lavish work of art – the blood-red steam juxtaposed with neon typography is sumptuous, enticing, and assertively simple. When one watches an Agatha Christie adaptation, everything has to follow in this manner, the audience desiring indulgence in detail and method within pristine domestic sanctuaries. With the conclusion embedded in popular culture, it would seem a new film would need to delve deeper below this surface, uncovering the raw horror buried at its core. The evil at large is at its most unspeakable in Christie’s novel, and as such the aim must be to speculate, probe, dissect, and leave unsettled the real mysteries at stake. And yet, Branagh has put down his pipe and tea to rest, and in their place grabbed a handful of sugary popcorn and a slab of Godiva chocolate.

“They have to attempt to act in the midst of this foray, and work with a script that bludgeons Christie’s novel to death in the snow”

Understandably assured by a cast every cinema-goer now knows by heart, the film was surely left to its own devices, with a pile of money to help get the engine running. The producers certainly spent it, much too frivolously it seems, with the CGI-train often looking less convincing than Robert Zemeckis’s Polar Express, especially in a smeary avalanche scene. Proceedings were derailed much earlier, however, and it might be questioned if the plot was ever on the right track to begin with. Treated unnecessarily to some fine shots over the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, screenwriter Michael Green takes it upon himself to give a brief introduction to Poirot’s style for the unknowing few with an utterly irrelevant prologue that soon descends into inexplicable farce. Its wasted length has a domino effect on the remainder, denying precious screentime for the key players as the film lurches hurriedly towards the predetermined conclusion.

What seemed to be the most infallible cast of recent years proves little more than glitter 20TH CENTURY FOX

Branagh is not terrible as the iconic Belgian sleuth, but he is no Finney, Ustinov, or Suchet. It can only be assumed that, if this is some self-gratifying passion project, it has been to contend with his predecessors, and it is difficult not to mock him for trying. With an aging caterpillar clinging to his top lip, he bumbles and murmurs inaudibly, sometimes with ludicrous subtitles appearing onscreen – Christie would never have needed to translate the occasional French comment to her readers, making for a concerning attempt on the film’s part to patronise its audience. Ignorance is one of the film’s central topics, changing the original characters to make distractingly simple points on anti-Semitism and racism, and our presumed stupidity means that even an unfamiliar viewer is allowed to solve the murder long before Poirot makes the announcement.

When he does so, it is in a bizarre re-enactment of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, with Michelle Pfeiffer seated pride of place as the Messiah, dressed in contrasting bright furs in case the symbolism was not already overt enough. Her disciples face judgement for the satanic beast they have vanquished, portrayed by Johnny Depp in another role of self-parody, caked in orange foundation and gorging on cake. Indeed, Godiva clearly invested so much in this film that at times it feels like a two-hour advertisement for patisserie and chocolate. While Penelope Cruz is delivering the film’s stand-out, and criminally underused, performance, Branagh turns to the side and comments that he loves all the “leeteurl cecks” on-board the train – like one of their famous truffles, the shimmering shell is not enough to mask the sickly softness inside.

Trailer for Murder on the Orient ExpressYOUTUBE

Much of the cinematography is responsible for the nauseating effect of the film. Instead of complex, claustrophobic drama, cameras dart from side-to-side, up-and-down, and end up in the most oblique of angles. Upon discovering Ratchett’s body, the audience is transformed into a fly on the ceiling, staring down at the compartments as though playing Cluedo. Every mode of travel is tested when moving along the train’s carriages, from external pans past windows at dizzying speed, to a slow-moving POV shot that turns to each character one-by-one as a cue to deliver their monosyllabic exclamations. In this light, it might be unfair to criticise Daisy Ridley for her consistently atrocious line delivery, or Olivia Colman’s German accent (sure to join the worst of all time), when they have to attempt to act in the midst of this foray, and work with a script that bludgeons Christie’s novel to death in the snow.


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Much like the limitations of the film, there is not time enough to address each performance individually, although Derek Jacobi and Josh Gad deserve a brief mention for their minor but tender vignettes. They remain behind as Branagh turns his back to the mess he has left on the mountainside. He is informed by a soldier that he is needed in Egypt immediately, for there has been a murder on the Nile. A chuckle arose in the auditorium, some people delighted by apparent fan-servicing (hardly), the prospect of a similarly vain sequel already in the works. But this is the 1930s! It will surely take days to get there, the suspects already dissipated, the body decomposing, the crime demystified beforehand! The lack of forethought already asserted, at least we might get another pretty poster out of it

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