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Murder on the Orient Express
3.5/5
dir Kenneth Branagh
scr Michael Green
prd Ridley Scott, Mark Gordon, Simon Kinberg, Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood
with Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Tom Bateman, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Lucy Boynton, Sergei Polunin, Marwan Kenzari, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo
release UK 3.Nov.17, US 10.Nov.17
17/UK Fox 1h54
Murder on the Orient Express
Epic tache: Branagh and Ridley

pfeiffer depp dench
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Murder on the Orient Express Agatha Christie's 83-year-old novel gets another star-packed adaptation, with high production values and an entertaining mix of snappy wit and dark emotion. An epic scale helps it feel weighty, but also sometimes lugubrious. As both actor and director Kenneth Branagh adds plenty of class, keeping the complex mystery lucid and finding engaging moments along the way, even if you know whodunit.

It's 1934 Istanbul, and famed detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is a last-minute addition to the passenger list for the Orient Express to London, thanks to his train-owning friend Bouc (Bateman). On board, Poirot quietly takes in details of his fellow passengers. So when there's a violent murder and the train becomes stuck in a snowdrift, Poirot has time to work out the connections between all of these people. But even for the self-proclaimed greatest detective in the world, this is a thorny case that raises some big questions.

As Poirot unpeels the mystery, the film's tone shifts from bright and jaunty into something much darker, exploring some deep feelings and a provocative blurring of the idea of moral certainty. The main question is whether it's a crime to kill someone who preyed on the innocent, so Poiroit's finely tuned sense of justice is challenged. Branagh has a lot of fun with the role, playing up the beloved character's egotistic quirks while digging under the skin to rattle his tenacity.

Around him, each ace costar has a chance to shine. The stand-out is Pfeiffer, who has the strongest role as a pushy American widow. Gad also has some unexpected complexity as the assistant to Depp's gruff gangster. But each actor creates his or her character with just enough texture to make the stereotypes intriguing and believable. They also quietly add underlying gristle to their scenes, relishing the fact that each person has a motive for murder.

The film is made with full-on production values. It looks lavish and expansive, from the towering Balkan mountains to the train's sumptuous decor to the elegant costumes. And while the action sequences never quite get the pulse racing, the black and white flashbacks are wonderfully moody and expressive. There's also of course the problem of adapting a mystery that's so well-known, so screenwriter Green opts for some big emotional resonance to bring it to life, plus a timely reminder that the world isn't so clearly divided into right and wrong.

cert 12 themes, violence 2.Nov.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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