ReelBob: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ ★★

By Bob Bloom

The real mystery behind “Murder on the Orient Express” is why it is so bland and lifeless?

Considering the cast and subject matter this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famed work is as bogged down as the titled train.

At the outset, I will admit to being a big fan of the 1974 version that starred Albert Finney as famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

Finney was surrounded by a superb supporting cast including Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (who won a best supporting actress Academy Award), John Gielgud, Michael York Wendy Hiller, Antony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Widmark, to name the most famous.

Kenneth Branagh, who also directs, stars as Poirot in this retelling. He is supported by an adequate gaggle of actors including Judi Dench, Lamar Odom Jr., Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp.

Where this new version succeeds is in making Poirot a more complex and complicated figure. He is a man obsessed with balance — literal and figurative.

Basically, Branagh’s Poirot has a two-dimensional view of the world. If there is a crime, then there must be a culprit. If there is a murder, then there must be a murderer.

Those who have read the book or seen any of the other cinematic adaptations, know the story and the outcome.

The problems with Branagh’s movie are twofold: first, he begins offering clues to suspects and the planned crime much too soon; second, and more importantly, his Poirot hogs the screen.

With all the talent at his fingertips, he mostly keeps his players in the background, giving each a snippet of a moment before moving onto the next performer.

Branagh fails to create any bonds between the various suspects and the audience. It’s like looking at a group of pawns, without caring what happens to any of them.

The movie seems at odds with itself. It rushes through the crime, the investigation and the motivation, yet it does so in a manner that seems to elongate the proceedings.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is 114 minutes; the 1974 version was 127 minutes. This remake feels longer because it seems to bog down at places, interrupting the flow as Branagh turns the camera on himself, ruminating about his past and his lost love.

That may add to his characterization, but it’s at the cost of his ensemble, who are given short shrift.

Pfeiffer comes off best among the costars, getting her dramatic moment before retreating into the background. With this film and her performance in “mother!,” Pfeiffer is making an impressive screen comeback.

“Murder on the Orient Express” lacks not only tension and suspense, but the stylish opulence and gravitas that a strong supporting cast must provide to make the movie work.

Instead, we get an unnecessary sluggish rehash that is as pale and cold as the snow surrounding the fabled conveyance.

I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
2 stars out of 4
(PG-13), violence, mature themes

  • ReelBob

    What is your opinion of the movie? How does it compare to the 1974 version or are comparisons unfair? Share your views here at ReelBob and we can discuss the movie.

    • Barbara Zuck

      Damn. I had faith in Branagh, though I’m a big fan of the 1974 film, too. The casting was magnificent.
      I may have to drag Jim to this new one.
      And yes, comparisons are definitely fair!

      • ReelBob

        Thanks, Babs. Just remember, it’s only one man’s opinion. You may enjoy it more than I did.