MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017) review

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Please be good… That’s pretty much all I can say to this movie.

A little background on the film, as there’s a bit of history. In 1934, famed novelist Dame Agatha Christie wrote the novel, Murder on the Orient Express, known in America as Murder in the Calais Coach. It followed the exploits of Christie’s first published character and arguably her most famous, Detective Hercule Poirot, appearing in thirty-three novels and many more other forms. Specifically, Orient Express was Poirot’s eighth outing in Christie’s books. The book would eventually be adapted into the movie, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in 1974, which included a pretty star-studded cast, like Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Michael York, and Jacqueline Bisset, just to name a few. Hell, I might check this movie out in the future if I have the time. It would be adapted two more times in the future. In 2001, it was adapted into a TV movie movie starring Alfred Molina. Ha! Even Japan adapted it into a TV mini-series in 2015, which… I believe it still going. IMDb doesn’t credit it having an end-year. Hmm.

Fast-forward to 2017 and we have, yet another, remake. So what does this movie look like it’s about? It looks like it’s about this luxury train, holding a colorful cast of characters. Someone is murdered, but everyone is a suspect, and it’s up to the “world’s greatest detective” Hercule Poirot, to figure out who did it. Seems pretty standard, but neither this book, nor this character, would be so popular if it wasn’t better than “standard.”

Here’s the star-studded cast. Starring, we have Kenneth Branagh (DUNKIRK [2017] and HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS [2002]), Daisy Ridley (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS [2015] and upcoming films STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI [2017] and PETER RABBIT [2018]), Lucy Boynton (REBEL IN THE RYE [2017], SING STREET [2016], and the upcoming BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY [2018]), Josh Gad (MARSHALL [2017], and the upcoming FROZEN 2 [2019]), and Michelle Pfeiffer (MOTHER! [2017], and the upcoming ANT-MAN AND THE WASP [2018]). In addition, we also have Judi Dench (VICTORIA & ABDUL [2017]), Penelope Cruz (THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY [2016]), Johnny Depp (PIRATES: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES [2017], and upcoming films SHERLOCK GNOMES [2018] and FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD [2018]), Derek Jacobi (CINDERELLA [2015] and THE GOLDEN COMPASS [2007]), and Willem Dafoe (THE FLORIDA PROJECT [2017], and the upcoming AQUAMAN [2018]).

Now for the crew. Directing is… *double take* seriously, dude?! Kenneth Branagh?! No complaints now. Anyway, he’s known for directing CINDERELLA, SLEUTH (2007), HAMLET (1996), and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL (2019). Penning the screenplay is Michael Green, known for BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017), LOGAN (2017), and GREEN LANTERN (2011). Composing the score is Patrick Doyle, known for THE EMOJI MOVIE (2017), HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005), and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL. Finally, the cinematographer is Haris Zambarloukos, known for DENIAL (2016), THOR (2011), and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL.

Overall, I’m pretty excited for this. Can’t wait.

This is my honest opinion of: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

(SUMMARY)

Famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) has just wrapped up a case and is making an attempt to go home and rest, hoping aboard the luxury train a friend of his owns, where Hercule meets a colorful group of people, one of them being a shady fellow named Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), who mentions that he has enemies and they’re coming after him and wants to employ Hercule to protect him. Hercule refuses and as a result, Ratchett is murdered that night, repeatedly stabbed to death. Hercule, unable to turn away from these events, attempts to figure out who did it.

(REVIEW)

I liked it. It’s got some style, which Branagh always has up his sleeves, and some great performances and talent. It’s not perfect, in fact there are some awkward moments that are a little too obvious for me to ignore, but it’s still a fun time.

Actually, I’m going to get the awkward notes out of the way and they mostly revolve around Branagh’s performance. There’s these really odd sequences in his private time when he’s reading a book and laughing. Thing is, his laugh is, well, awkward. It’s the laugh of a cartoon character; really high-pitched and child-like. I know Hercule isn’t supposed to be Batman-serious when he’s working, but these lighter moments may be a little too light. But there’s a flipside to this coin. Early on, we learned that Hercule has no interest in seeking romance as there’s already someone special in his life, Katherine. We don’t know what happened to her, but Hercule makes a huge deal about it. How so, you may ask? He hold a small picture frame of her in both hands and constantly says, “My Katherine,” in Belgian. This happens at least three times during the movie and it always starts with that line. But more than that, he talks out loud to the picture. Not in a reminiscent tone, or a therapeutic conversation way, but in a crazy stalker kind of way. Yeah, it’s pretty weird and a little uncomfortable. To make things even stranger, this subplot of “his Katherine” amounts to nothing in the story. It doesn’t really play a part in any decisions he makes. I suppose someone could argue, “No! It’s the one time he shows vulnerability and it’s through Katherine that he learns to think with his heart, not his head.” Well that’s certainly a cop out and a little too convenient and vague. We don’t know Katherine, so we can’t intimately know the impact she had on his way of thinking.

Thankfully, the rest of the movie is pretty solid.

The first thing I noticed was how great the cinematography was, and if you know me, I only notice it when it’s the best of movies, and here is no exception. This film feels huge. Wide shots of cities that look gorgeous. That’s another thing about this movie, there’s not a single frame that isn’t stunning. With the exception of one bit with Poirot walking through the train with Caroline (Michelle Pfeiffer) where every second a window frame blocks the audience’s view of the actors and would induce a headache if it lasted any longer, this is a very pretty movie to look at. If nothing else, you could put it on and have it in the background on your TV and class up your living room.

***SPOILERS***

 

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The cast of characters is way too big for me to go through, and honestly, most don’t get much screen time, so I wouldn’t be able to comment anyway, but I’ll mention the standouts.

Pfeiffer is… well, what do you think? She shines radiantly in this flick and is probably the best character. Her granddaughter was killed, her daughter died not long after, and her son-in-law killed himself in grief, and she wants revenge. So she managed to recruit every single person that was related to her family and the failed case that didn’t bring in John Cassetti. She organized everything and made everyone play a part and everyone affected by Cassetti’s actions got a turn in stabbing him to death. That was some powerful shit. And she rips your heart out when she confesses. You really see that fire in her eyes, wanting to take responsibility and let these people live real lives and not let Cassetti ruin them, as justice failed.

Surprise second favorite goes to Gad as MacQueen. Usually, I associate this man with playing annoying and not-funny comedy roles. I can’t name more than two films where he played drama. But lo and behold, like most funny people, he does drama pretty well as the son of the disgraced lawyer who didn’t pin the crimes on Cassetti in time before the long-standing wrongfully-accused woman committed suicide. I believed that he was angry at his father’s fall from grace and it would have been a pretty easy sell to get him to play a part in Cassetti’s organization, right by his side no less.

Hell, even Depp wasn’t too bad. That’s pretty rare for the man, especially these days. The moment he comes on screen as Ratchett, you don’t like him. You know this man is a slimy dick-weed who needs that pretentious mustache slapped right off his face. But you also understand that subtle urgency in his tone that he knows his enemies are close by and knows that he has no extensive means of protecting himself outside of his single handgun. He’s clearly a weasel, but he is a man asking for help and afraid for his life. It’s not until later on when his true identity is revealed that we might actually be on the murderer’s side. Despite how brief Depp’s role is, it’s probably for the best as it’s a solid reminder that the man is a good actor when given something good to work with.

I also give some major props to the writing in that, despite most of the characters not getting much screen time, I find it bizarre that I can still identify most their connections to the child that was murdered prior to the story. Caroline was the mother, MacQueen was the son of the disgraced lawyer, Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) was the godmother, Hardman (Dafoe) was the lover of the accused woman who committed suicide, Pilar (Penelope Cruz) was the girl’s nanny, Elena (Boynton) was the older sister, and Doctoqr Arbuthnot (Odom Jr.) was a war friend of her father’s. The only characters whose connections I didn’t remember were Mary (Daisy Ridley), Edward (Derek Jacobi), Count Rudolf (Sergei Polunin), and Hildegarde (Olivia Colman). I know there were others, but I don’t even remember their character names, let alone much else. But I’m surprised I remembered that much about them. Usually, movies like these, the details go over my head faster than a bullet leaves the barrel of a gun, so I was impressed enough.

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***END SPOILERS***

While this isn’t necessarily a complaint toward the movie, I do think you should go in with a certain mind-set. What I mean is, if you’re anything like me, and you like “whodunnit” stories and you actually like to sit with the detective and figure out who did it as they do, then you might be a tad disappointed. While the movie as a narrative flows swimmingly enough, if you wanted the movie to take a breather and let you try and figure out who did it with Poirot, then the movie is a little too fast-paced for that. When he finds a clue, he knows exactly what questions to ask and knows exactly where to find answers. In that sense, the fun is a little stale and you have to go in knowing that this movie is self-contained and won’t engage audiences that effectively.

Overall, I can’t say that I’d see this movie too many more times in future, or certainly not owning it on Blu-Ray, but I had a fun time with my one view, so I am going to recommend it as a matinee screening, or a very strong rental. It’s visually appealing to look at, the sets are gorgeous, the cinematography incredible, the performances solid, and the characters largely memorable. But because I couldn’t engage in the story and figure out the mystery with the Poirot, the fun is hampered, and being the reason why repeat viewings would be vastly limited. Still, I enjoyed myself and think it’s worth a watch.

My honest rating for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017): 4/5

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