Michael's Review of "Muder on the Orient Express" (2017)
I'm not a big Agatha Christie fan or even a regular reader or viewer of Hercule Poirot stories. Although I have read a few of Christie's tales and used to subscribe to a couple of detective story magazines in my younger days, I'm only casually acquainted with Christie and the great Belgian detective.

Nonetheless, who hasn't heard at least snippets of this story? I consider it to be a classic. Browsing through some of the reviews for both the original novel and the film this weekend I got the impression that the current generation of critics are required by law to deem it appropriate for a back alley glance.

Agatha Christie's writing doesn't set windmills to dancing. But she has a certain charm that rests upon her reputation. And she has sold more books than any other author so reading Christie is a requirement at some point in your literary education. It's an easier read than Shakespeare.

All that said, Kenneth Branagh faced an uphill challenge when he took on this project. If you've seen the 1974 film (I could not sit through it, I was so bored) or read the novel, you know who done it and how the story ends. So how do you do another take on "Murder on the Orient Express" and keep it fresh?

Branagh threw in two new elements: himself and the scenery. There are some amazing landscapes in this movie. I have no idea of how much of this was done in green screen and I don't care. You know you're trekking through a vast wilderness (well, central Europe) just by stepping back and watching the train pass through empty valleys and menacing valleys.

Branagh's performance as the perfectionistic Poirot seems to have earned the most accolades in this movie. I quite enjoyed his part all the way through. He really seemed to love the character.

The rest of the cast was interesting. This is the kind of movie that calls for "BIG NAMES", perhaps because the characters themselves are somewhat limited in scope. Some people would say they are stereotypes. Classic caricatures. One of the appealing qualities of the story is that nothing is what it appears to be. If you already know that because of past familiarity with it then you don't spend your time trying to second guess the mystery maker; instead you wander around in the details.

I loved the attention to detail in this movie. That really part of the film's character. They could have updated the story, although I don't know how that would have worked. You're not quite in the age of Steampunk but there is an almost Victorian feel to the sets and the costumes. It's a brash appeal to faux nostalgia.

Branagh rattles off Poirot's endless litany of mercurial observations about everyone and everything like a grumpy old Belgian whose holiday has been interrupted by yet another insufferable murder. I think that is the hook that plays well in Branagh's performance. He really does seem like he would just like to get a few days' rest and no one will allow him to do so.

Tom Bateman plays Poirot's irrascible, bored, and much-sullied friend Bouc. The two actors have a great screen presence together. One gets the sense that Poirot only trusts Bouc and himself as the mystery around them deepens. And Bouc is the only liar who tells the truth, which is like a breath of fresh for Poirot, who turns to his friend for relief from all the deception.

The rest of the cast play out their roles like war weary stage actors. They know the roles so well they could play them in their sleep. One critic noted that Dame Judi Dench is almost contractually required to play all her roles a certain way. I think that's unfair to her as an actor but there was really only one way to play Princess Dragomiroff. The character has been lampooned in a hundred murder mysteries. You have to leave her almost intact so everyone knows what to expect of her in the situation. She'll complain about everything, but when the final telling come Judi gets to drop the cranky facade and make the character a little human.

That's probably why you need to use well-established actors to play these roles. There isn't much meat to the characters until the reveal. Then they get to finally come clean about their feelings. I admit the scene was not as intense as I hoped it would be, but then I already knew who done it.

While I cannot say I felt nostalgic I loved the fact that this movie was a period piece. I actually grew up on "period pieces" and I have always missed the dynamic interplay between actors that was so characteristic of pop movies from the 1930s and 1940s. Maybe that was why I liked the interaction between Poirot and Bouc so much. They had a rapid-fire repartee in their first scene that made their dialog feel natural to me. All the contrived conversations from that point on until Poirot begins interviewing all the witnesses were a bit dreary but any time Bouc and Poirot came together I felt like they were having fun, and that helped me enjoy the movie a little bit.

It makes no sense but I loved the movie. Not everyone in the audience was entranced as was I but I didn't go in expecting a challenge for solving a mystery. Nor was I expecting much from any of the characters. When you assemble this many people you have to expect that most of the characters will be awarded too little screen time to be interesting.

The train was interesting, the scenery was beautiful, and Poirot was exactly what I would expect him to be. And that was good enough for me.
I love it and all the actors were great.
Don't insult the precious, my precious!:book:

MYCode Guide

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