Murder on the Orient Express: a spoiler free review (unless you've never read Agatha Christie)
In the interest of complete transparency, I am in love with Penelope Cruz. There I said it.
Cruz is one of the galaxy of stars (sorry!) in Kenneth Branagh's remake of the classic "Murder on the Orient Express". The story is well known of a lavish train ride from the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers and one man's race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.
This is an easy watch. It's a film that you settle into like your favourite spot on the sofa with a snuggly blanket or your faithful pet, in this case - Sir Ken "Chuckles" Branagh.
Adapted from Agatha Christie's novel by Michael Green (who also wrote Bladerunner 2049), Branagh's movie opens in Jerusalem, 1934, still ruled by George V. Branagh introduces us to the hero, Poirot in fine swashbuckling style by solving the mystery of a stolen local artefact and letting us know his preference for perfection when it comes to his boiled eggs. In a clunky bit of exposition Poirot explains to an army Captain how he solves crimes, by looking for perfection and noticing its absence. We forgive this clunky moment by Branagh because he's cuddly and has an amazing moustache. I actually feel the moustache should have had star-billing.
So to the train. It is full of A-list actors. If that's not suspicious, I'm not sure what is. From Dame Judi Dench, to Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom, Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin - one feels that this is not so much a train destined for London, but a red carpet moment before a premiere. I'm not sure how much they were all paid but not many of them have more than a dozen lines, apart from Branagh. In terms of Depp, it is a blessing as he mumbles his way through what little dialogue he has. His recent appearance on the Graham NOrton show confirmed the man is incapable of sensible utterances. Overrated actor is a thought never far from my mind and this film does nothing to assuage that. As for the rest of our ensemble, apart from Michelle Pfeiffer's histrionics, they have little to do apart from sitting around looking suspiciously at each other.
I won't talk too much about the mystery itself apart from saying that not everything was explained clearly. There were mentions of a couple of items (e.g. the pipe) plus some things characters said that makes me think something was left on the cutting room floor. It's a minor quibble.
The film itself is visually stunning. Branagh has employed Haris Zambarloukous, the DoP he has used previously on the likes of Thor. From the expansive scenes of Jerusalem and Istanbul to the claustrophobic interiors of the train, it is a sumptuous experience. The images of the train traveling through parts of the Middle East and South Eastern Europe are beautiful. The CGI is a little dodgy in places though.
My complaints? Firstly, not enough Penelope Cruz. Overall I was disappointed. With this cast, I expected more. Secondly, how the hell did ten locals lift a 100 ton train engine back onto the rails? Thirdly, why did Branagh/Poirot walk along the roof of the train? Fourthly - what was with that Last Supper imagery during the denouement?
A comfy 2.5 out of 5. It's a Sunday afternoon movie with the fire lighting and Granny snoring. I hope Branagh's planned Death on the Nile is better.