Murder on the Orient Express ★★

I am one of the biggest fan's of Lumet's 1974 adaptation of Christie's novel, and I am also one of the biggest fans of Branagh's Shakespeare adaptations, so despite the lousy trailers, I went into this hoping it would be fun and passable, even if it vastly paled in comparison to Lumet's film. While there are a few stretches which are actually good, and it's certainly not all bad, there sure is a lot of bad in this Murder on the Orient Express.

Let's start with the opening. To explain why Hercule Poirot is riding the Orient Express, there is a pointless, obnoxiously action heavy prologue where he solves a theft, which is about to cause a riot in Istanbul. This was one of the most depressing scenes I've seen all year, mostly because in its laborious introduction of Christie's famous detective (he's Belgian, the greatest detective in the world, has an extravagant mustache, and other peculiar quirks) it became quite apparent that there is an entire generation who has no idea who Poirot and Miss Marple are. There are also shit-jokes, because what's a whodunit without some feces thrown in?

After solving this crime, Poirot boards the Orient Express for a vacation, where he meets the ensemble of Famous Actors, all acting so blatantly suspicious that the answer to the crime should be instantly obvious even if you had never heard of Christie's novel before. Indeed, the solution to the mystery is so obvious, it's baffling that the world's greatest detective takes so long to solve it.

All of the cast is decent, and a few in particular stand out, but no one holds a candle to their counterpart in the 1974 Lumet film. Even Judi Dench is not as good as Wendy Hiller. Michelle Pfeiffer is sadly wasted as Mrs. Hubbard, who has a much smaller role here, but at the same time, as good as Pfeiffer is, no one can ever top Lauren Bacall. I admit I actually more or less enjoyed Branagh's scenery chewing as Poirot. Finally, Depp is surprisingly good as the thuggish but frightened Ratchet; it's one of his best performances in some time, which is sadly not saying much.

The film lurches and stalls until the murder, after which it finally gets going, and for awhile, it was fairly enjoyable. The interrogation scenes were fun, even if they were parade of celebrities. Unfortunately, someone felt the need to interject sloppily filmed actions scenes whenever the dialogue really got going, because what's a whodunit without some punches and bullets?

The most glaring absence from this film is Sean Connery's line about the necessity of trial by jury to determine guilt or innocence. In its place is Poirot's internal wrestling with whether good people can do bad things, which culminates in one of the most horrifically miscalculated finales, itself a continuation of sloppily filmed action scenes that punctuated the film.

There are also countless reminders that racism existed in 1934, with Poirot being an anachronistically woke character, and while there is an attempt to tie the racism into the plot, once the mystery gets going, the characters' prejudices are thrown out the window.

Finally, there is the threat of a sequel with a gratuitous reference to Christie's next most famous Poirot mystery, Death on the Nile. While the 1978 film of that title certainly has room for improvement, this outing gave me no confidence that these are the filmmakers to attempt it.

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