World-famous detective Hercule Poirot attempts to take a vacation while aboard the luxurious Orient Express, but his plans for rest are foiled when a murder takes place on the train, forcing him to solve the case… possibly before the killer can strike again.
There can’t be more classic source material than an Agatha Christie mystery (the celebrated novelist is only surpassed in sales by the Bible and the works of Shakespeare). That said, it is unclear why Hollywood decided to spend $55 million on this limp noodle of a remake (there is also a far superior 1974 version). The premise is promising and the cast outstanding, but it still manages to fall short. Let’s examine why…
Kenneth Branagh plays the titular Poirot, while also holding down the director’s chair. Branagh does a great job with the character and is clearly having a blast chewing up the scenery. The problem? He’s the only who gets to do so. The cast is stuffed with talent, including Dame Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff, Willem Dafoe as Cyrus Hardman, Penelope Cruz as Pilar Estravoados, Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, and Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham. Johnny Depp is a thug and bully with a drinking problem, a penchant for abusive dark deeds, and a moral compass pointed permanently due south. He also plays the bad guy, Samuel Ratchett, in this film.
With marquee names such as these, the movie should be teeming with standout performances as each actor vies to top the other. Instead, we get Branagh, Branagh, and – oh, hey! How about some more Branagh? Meanwhile the rest of the cast is afforded scant screen time, acting opposite, you guessed it, Branagh! All do the best they can with their allotted moments, but you can sense thoroughbreds yearning to break free.
“Psst… Josh. Did you hear I’m a jerk?”
Do you like molasses? I like molasses too! Just not for pacing of my film plots. Christie’s book was published in 1934 (the novel, per usual, shines above its screen counterparts) and is understandably held to a different standard from today’s fast-paced world. However, this version is being released in 2017, yet Branagh has chosen to do nothing to reflect that. Instead he delivered a product with absolutely no embellishment. The result is a tepid note for note reinterpretation that feels more like a play. (Granted there is nothing wrong with plays – they remain an important facet of our entertainment culture. But that is not what people are expecting when they go to a movie. I hit the 12:30 PM showing on Friday, Veteran’s Day, and it was packed. My sense was people entered excited and left deflated).
If the movie has nothing clever to say, why should I? [Photo Credit]
It’s not a total loss, as the sets and costumes are sumptuous. The beauty is a feast for the eyes. (Am I on a dare to cram as many idioms into one review as possible? I’ll never tell!) Though the pace is slow, it is nice to enjoy some subtle dialogue. (Stellar examples include: “Romance never goes unpunished,” “You’ve got a head full of steam and a mouth full of words,” “There is no end to the lies produced for me,” and “If it were easy, I would not be famous.”) Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to the slick marketing hype; I suspect word of mouth will spread quickly that this thriller is not at all thrilling.
(Speaking of Hollywood marketing, I beg of studios: Please, please stop torturing us with so many previews. You’re actively punishing a captive audience and then turning around expecting support. Previews used to be a treat – a teaser of 3 or 4 movies to come. Now that time clocks in at an excruciating 25 MINUTES or more, plus commercials. I’m beginning to think they’re in cahoots with an underground league of babysitters working for the mob. Think you’re getting out of that theater in 2 hours or less? No, you are not – and it’s gonna cost you).
I feel you, Penelope. I was pretty bored too! [Photo Credit]
There is nothing horribly wrong with MOTOE – it is simply not compelling enough to warrant feature film status. Lacking the humor of another classic detective series (the Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes installments) or the gravitas of something grittier, it’s left to just… sit there. And that’s no damn fun.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Poirot reveals his OCD tendencies.
Take a Drink: every time a character is questioned by Poirot.
Take a Drink: every time you fixate on a gorgeous costume or piece of scenery.
Do a Shot: when Poirot says, “I don’t like your face,” to Johnny Depp’s character and you want to shout, “Same!”