Murder on the Orient Express, 2017, 2 ¼ stars

Branagh murders Murder

Image copyright 20th Century Fox / Genre Films

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, November 12, 2017

Congratulations, Sir Kenneth Branagh, for figuring out exactly what the claustrophobic, intimate, nail-bitingly suspenseful Murder on the Orient Express needed: 65mm film, a widescreen aspect ratio, dozens of green screens and endless CGI helicopter shots. Hey, nothing says “trapped on a train with a murderer” like the feeling of hang gliding over the train. What’s most astonishing is that Branagh, an actor’s director, has concentrated almost entirely on production design when the film’s focus should have been on what he’s good at: performance and pacing.

And while you’re at it, let’s add some heavy-handed, politically correct changes to Agatha Christie’s novel. After all, we know just how common black doctors were in Britain in the 1930s and how badly we needed a Hispanic character. At least now the film can qualify for the forced-diversity BAFTAs. (I’m all for diversity in art. Diversity of all types: race, gender, subject matter, cultural perspective, etc. But cramming it down our throats in his fashion is disrespectful of the diversity we’re trying to honor.)

Oh, and let’s throw in some action sequences while we’re at it, to mask the fact that there’s surprisingly little suspense in this new version, which is vastly inferior to the 1974 Sidney Lumet classic (4 stars on 0-5 scale). (That was apparently the only movie adaptation of an Agatha Christie movie that Christie herself approved of.)

If you’ve forgotten the plot or never read the book, you’ll get some enjoyment out of this new version, which was written by Michael Green. And, admittedly, thanks to a delicious cast (Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Leslie Odom, the underused Judi Dench and the overly hammy Branagh as Hercule Poirot) and some excellent (though, as mentioned before, misplaced production design), this is not a bad film at all. It’s just ill fitting and unnecessary.

Let me break from tradition and clue you in on the murderer. It’ll save you the wasted time and money. It’s Branagh, on a train, with a movie camera.

Copyright 2017 © Cameron Meier