Darke Reviews | Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

This is one of the rare reviews in which I have read the book, but I think I was like twelve at the time. I also saw the 1974 movie with a cast of the time to rival this one: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, and Richard Widmark. Yes, I saw it on network tv as a little girl, pretty sure I also saw Ten Little Indians as well (or And There Were None if you are purist). I didn’t read much else of hers beyond the two, though I did get my share of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew as well (preferred Nancy tbh). I remember seeing the trailer for this remake and asked myself “who asked for this?” and “Doesn’t everyone know this story?”. Apparently someone did ask, and as I found out tonight not everyone knows the story. Learn something new every day.

Is this a mystery with uncovering though?

The screenplay by Michael Green is of course based on Ms. Christie’s original story from 1934; which is generally considered a seminal work of mystery fiction. You don’t even have to be a fan of Agatha Christie to acknowledge that her stories are some of the most influential structures to the murder mystery genre we know today. Her work has been interpreted, reinterpreted, and re-imagined dozens of times over the last century. Her work is so important to this genre that the 1976 parody Murder by Death (a must see by the way – even if Peter Sellers caricature is problematic) includes send ups of two of her characters.  Green himself is a mystery to me, as one of the many writers on Green Lantern and Alien Covenant – he also has this, Logan, and Blade Runner 2049. Sure there’s hit and miss, but I feel like he’s shooting at a dart board blind folded for the hits to be so strong and the misses to be so abysmal. In this case he had a master to work with on the source material and an expert director, yet at the same time the dialogue was sharp, witty, and clean in such a way that it made several of the characters truly engaging beyond their role in the film. This is a mystery for me to solve, but when you have Agatha Christie to work from – it’s difficult to fail.

Ok the original writer helps, but then you add the director Kenneth Branagh. The man is a talented director and a true master of his craft. He too has hits and misses, but with few exceptions even his misses are better than much of what Hollywood puts out from it’s “best”.  He works at his “best” when dealing with period pieces and this is no exception. Every performance from the talented cast is absolute in its precision. The execution of beats, pacing, costume, colour, sound and blocking are exceptional – even if a few of them are a little derivative and on the nose for the shot. It still takes an expert to frame a shot that is derivative and make it work in a way that you don’t care. What impressed me most was the control of the camera with frequent Branagh collaborator Haris Zamarloukos – who was the director of photography. I absolutely adored the movement of the camera and how they made three cars of a train feel expansive and moved the camera around, through, and over them. There’s one tracking shot during the middle of the first act I didn’t even realize it WAS a tracking shot until it was half over because of how clean the camera moved through the scene. While I am sure there’s edits and I would need to watch the scene again to catch them, it looks like a single take at a massive scale that few save Speilberg can pull off.

From an acting stand point – what do you think happens when you put Daisy Ridley (Star Wars – Rey), Leslie Odom Jr. (CSI Miami), Penelope Cruz (Blow, Vanilla Sky), Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, The Kings Speech, The Secret of NIMH’s Nicodemus), Michelle Pfieffer (Scarface, Batman Returns), Willem friggin Dafoe (Boondock Saints, Platoon), and the amazing Dame Judi Dench (Casinoe Royale, Shakespeare in Love) in a single film? Ok Branagh playing the part of Hercule Poirot is a bit of self insert fan fiction, but if you had a chance to play one of the worlds greatest detectives and COULD do it justice -wouldn’t you? I didn’t mention Josh Gad (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast),  who needs to move from comedy and get into drama. He is one of those actors who has the timing, presence, and gravitas to move between the styles of film and succeed remarkably well. The other standout is Tom Bateman (Da Vinci’s Demons, Jekyll & Hyde) as Bouc, director of the Orient Express. His intro is nothing short of entertaining and I think I could watch a movie about just him and Poirot and be happy.

The movie is near technically perfect as I mentioned before. Near though, not perfect. The green screen for Istanbul isn’t quite right and noticeable for someone like me. The computer rendered train on wide shots as she moves into the snow covered alps again just isn’t quite right. It’s gorgeous, but not right. It isn’t uncanny valley where I am unnerved by the perfection of it, so much as I think another rendering pass would have solved it on the light diffusion and textures of the train. That’s it though, those are my only complaints.  For purists I know the mustache is an issue, but since I am not one – it wasn’t one for me.

TL;DR?

Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most expertly made films I have seen this year. I was entertained as a film goer and amazed as a film reviewer. It is near technically perfect with only a few nitpicks and probably a few others I could point out if I really wanted to dig. This movie has an uphill climb against the juggernaut that is Thor and the upcoming disappointment Justice League, which will still make more money than it deserves; yet it deserves recognition and an audience.

Sadly, I don’t think it will find it. Everything about it is solid, but it’s really banking on the actors names as much as anything to get people into the theatre and it still must compete with the raw popularity and “enjoyment” value of Thor Ragnarok. This is a murder mystery, its here to make you think. It’s a period piece; which is to let you embrace the costuming, acting, and other components that come with that. I truly hope people go out to see this movie and hope this review convinces people on the fence to see it.

Should you see it?

Yes. Full stop. Yes. It’s a really good movie with a good story and great production values.

Would you watch it again?

I knew the ending going in from seeing a previous version and I still saw it. I would absolutely see it again if someone wants to take me.

I deduce that you are are buying it then.

You would be correct in your logic.

Ragging on Justice League before it comes out – really isn’t that unfair?

Not in the least. DC and Warner Bros have only gotten one absolutely right, and one absolutely enjoyable (for me). This was scripted, filmed, and in the can before they could adjust based on lessons learned. It *looks* bad. Even the Joss Whedon reshoots can only do so much with the framework already there. Most people I’ve talked to are going to see Wonder Woman and drool over Aquaman. The rest is irrelevant. The movie could surprise me, but I doubt it.

I will probably tell you to see this instead.

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