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‘Murder on The Orient Express’ (review)

Produced by Ridley Scott, Mark Gordon,
Simon Kinberg, Kenneth Branagh,
Judy Hofflund, Michael Schaefer
Screenplay by Michael Green
Based on Murder on the Orient Express
by Agatha Christie
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Tom Bateman, Kenneth Branagh,
Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench,
Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi,
Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley

 

Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express is lovingly adapted to the screen once again. This time it is written by Michael Green and brilliantly directed by Kenneth Branagh.

I enjoyed this film very much.

Not always a fan of Christie’s story telling and mystery writing style, I found this to be a very smart and streamlined adaptation. Always up to the challenge of producing classic tales for a modern audience, Branagh is able to keep to the heart of the story, set it in the 1930’s time period and yet make it accessible to the modern audience.

Without having to adapt it to a modern day setting director Branagh, who also plays the Hercule Poirot, “the greatest detective in the world”, is able to instead wrap the film lavishly in what makes this mystery interesting and provide a satisfying conclusion even though I knew how it ended.

I have read some people asking “what the point of remaking this story again?”.

Film remakes are something I often struggle with. I usually do not see the point. However, for some reason, though, with stories I consider “classics” I don’t seem to have that problem. It is strange and seems hypocritical. Remakes such as these, much like the umpteen remakes of various Shakespeare stories out there are open to a myriad of interpretations like various stage productions.

Here, I think Branagh and Green have a new take on the original story and Branagh’s love of the source material and his skill as a director is perfect for this new version.

Shot on 65mm film the sprawling mountainous landscapes and the colors are so vibrant and detailed that at some points they do not look real. I am not entirely sure what was digital and what was practical. The scope of the film was breathtaking. For the interiors, the use of such a large film format actually helped in giving the train an almost claustrophobic feel because you were able to really grasp the size of the train and though the four car train was as luxurious as can be, being a train it was still confined and cramped.

Previous Branagh collaborator cinematographer, Haris Zambarloukos (Thor), utilizes the formats ability to capture magnificent landscapes and its intense color and detail to heighten and build the tension visually.

The star-studded cast featuring two Oscar winners, Judi Dench and Penelope Cruz and four nominees, Branagh, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jonny Depp are magnificent. Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Olivia Colman, Leslie Odom Jr., Derek Jacobi, and the rest of the supporting ensemble are equally wonderful and perfectly cast.

Murder on the Orient Express delivers. Sure it is cliche at times; yes, Branagh’s mustache is ridiculous; of course it is not subtle in it’s delivery of the final solving of the case, but this is Agatha Christie. She is basically the queen of the pulp murder mystery novel. She invented this style of what we now call “classic murder mysteries,” so it is hard not to look at this film and say “wow, that is cheesy” or “man, this heavy handed.”

In the world we now live in with the CSI’s and the Law and Order’s and other more subtle and procedural crime shows and stories, this film may come off as “old fashioned” because it is. It is also well made and masterfully crafted by a director who has spent his lifetime steeped in the classics and in the past.  It’s easy to dismiss Christie’s work as cliché, but it’s important to remember that it was her storytelling tropes that created the storytelling conventions that became the norm.

I recommend it and think that the Christie fans out there will like it a lot and the Branagh fans will as well. As a fan of excellent filmmaking I enjoyed this movie and I certainly would see it again.

 

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