For a film remake cynic like me, the release of Murder on the Orient Express shouldn’t hold any great expectations – more so since the 1974 original is generally regarded as a classic. But only a die-hard cynic would balk at the prospect of actor/director Kenneth Branagh’s stellar cast.
While Branagh himself stars as the whiskered sleuth, the laundry list of A-listers is an intimidating one: Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr, Josh Gad, Olivier Colman and Derek Jacobi. Which raises the question: Which is the best team, pound for pound, all-star cast 1974 versus 2017 cast? They have so many Oscar wins and nominations between them than you can shake a golden statuette at.
But forget this mother of all ensemble casts. Apart from Branagh – who steals the show with a bravura performance as Agatha Christie’s legendary detective Hercule Poirot – the other actors barely have enough material to do justice to their vaunted talents.
A good advice to A-list actors/directors: If you’re going to use your Hollywood clout to assemble a mouth-watering array of stars for your film, please make it count. And possibly for an original film, rather than well-known stories that have been covered many times. For Christ’s sake, Judi Dench is a national treasure. Apparently, she said yes to Branagh’s request to feature in MOTOE without having read the script. Oh well, what are friends for? But she deserves better than being a hanger-on. The fans deserve better.
When Johnny Depp’s Edward Ratchett is murdered on the Orient Express, the task falls to Poirot to discover the murderer before the train reaches its destination. What makes Christie’s book one of the most lauded of whodunits is that all the passengers on the train are viable suspects.
What you’re going to enjoy about this film is Branagh’s take on Hercule Poirot, the visual direction and costume.
Poirot’s demand for order and propriety – in every facet of life – is legendary. In an opening scene, as he strides down the street of Jerusalem on his way to burst open a case, Poirot steps on a squishy mound of excrement – and stops dead. To restore equilibrium in his step, he methodically steps into the turd again – with his other feet. Thus, the essence of Branagh’s Poirot is established.
You get the impression that Branagh’s aim is to birth a new Poirot – and firmly establish this detective as his own. It’s a lofty aim. Just check out the irrepressible sleuth’s signature moustache: It’s the handlebar to shame all other handlebars. This moustache has a life of its own. Some cynical observer might accuse Branagh of an opportunistic release of MOTOE in the month of Movember. Or it might just as well be a coincidence. Whatever your opinion, Poirot’s moustache – stretching from ear to ear, definitely earned mileage for the film.
As far as acting is concerned, it’s a blazing performance from Branagh. He razzle-dazzles his way through the film as the mercurial Poirot. He’s as dapper and flamboyant as they come. He enchants as much as he stupefies. And for a middle-aged man, he’s got such spring in his step as to rival a much younger British sleuth in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes. Branagh is having so much fun as Poirot that he relegates his co-stars to the background.
The film is brilliantly shot to Branagh’s direction. There’s a surfeit of indulgent tracking and panoramic shots – against visually stunning backdrops, such as snow-capped mountains – even if digitised ones. Every scene is well thought out with awesome cinematic compositions. And the period costumes are absolutely delightful.
The inimitable Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for best supporting actress in the Sidney Lumet film. I think I can comfortably say that there will be no Oscars – at least not in a performance category – for this remake. Which begs the question: Why remakes when there are countless original stories begging for consideration? Maybe we can use the feeble outcome of this latest attempt to decree a 50-year moratorium on remakes.
Did somebody say a remake of An American Werewolf in London is in the works? Oh no. As my 4-year old neice would say: “But whyyyyyy?”