Thursday, November 02, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express - a railway murder solved in style ... & a comedy moustache (in cinemas from 3 November)

While the first ten minutes of Murder on the Orient Express have the feel of a Biblical classic and made me wonder would Hercule Poirot be travelling in Ben-Hur’s chariot, all is not lost. The film quickly settles down and improves once Kenneth Branagh gets his comedy moustache safely on board the eponymous train.

Over one hundred minutes audiences enjoy a lavish studio production of Agatha Christie’s classic detective novel. Fans of Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi and the many other twinkling stars will flock to this new superhero movie that is sure to spawn its own franchise.

Just in case you don’t realise that Poirot is a genius by the way he talks to himself and is totally aware of his superpowers, early on another minor character notes:
“It’s as if you see into their hearts and see their true motives.”

There’s a murder on board the first class carriage of the Orient Express. No one suspects Poirot. No one questions the director of the train. Instead the spotlight of truth and justice falls on the twelve or so other guests who were sleeping up and down the corridor of private compartments.

At first every scene and every snippet of conversation seems to be a potential clue. It’s quite exhausting to take them all in. Having already sat through a screening of a much more tragic real-life investigation – No Stone Unturned which pulls together lots of evidence to uncover new truths about the 1994 murder of six men in a Loughinisland bar – my brain was quite frazzled.

But there is release from the torment of trying to build up an evidential spider’s web when it becomes apparent that the railway murder is linked to another case of which we have no knowledge. Indeed as the bushy-lipped Poirot reaches up and plucks clues and motivations out of the maelstrom of facts that swirl around his head, it becomes obvious that the pattern of stab wounds is the only clue the cinema audience have to help them piece together the solution to this tricky crime.

“If it were easy, I wouldn’t be famous!”
Once you remove the need to play along from your seat, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. The long takes, gentle snow and golden sun give the film its distinctive look and feel. Some of the scenes flying across the countryside while the train is still moving (it conveniently stops for most of the investigation) feel fully animated rather than merely CGIed.

Kenneth Branagh directs (as well as taking the lead role) and brings a very theatrical approach to each scene. The sedentary positioning of each character creates shapes that the single camera can interrogate. The final ‘Last Supper’ tableau in the tunnel is beautifully observed.

This will be no one’s film of the year, but the starry ensemble cast, snowy landscape, gentle humour, comedy moustache and clever moral twist at the end bring Agatha Christie’s train safely into the next station.

Murder on the Orient Express goes on general release from Friday 3 November in Movie House, Omniplex, the Odeon and many other local cinemas.

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