The only thing I really loved about Kenneth Branagh‘s Murder on the Orient Express (20th Century Fox, 11.10) was the train itself. It’s an exquisitely designed and decorated pre-war thing — beautiful carpets and drapes, nicely upholstered dining-car seats, lamps of softly glowing amber, that wonderful dark-wood paneling and old-world bathroom fixtures and all the other trimmings, and that soft clackety sound of wheels meeting rails. So very comforting.
What I saw in the film was partly an actual moving train, partly a stationary outdoor set and partly (just guessing here) a sound-stage set constructed with real-world refinement. I’ve been queer all my life for classic European trains and that cocoon-y feeling of bygone luxury, and so hanging with Branagh’s Hercule Poirot and the dozen or so stiff-necked suspects was…well, pleasant enough.
The rest of it felt…what, rote and pre-programed? I didn’t mind it. Well, I did but I tried to brush those feelings away. We all know where it’s heading and who did it so what kind of real satisfaction can be derived? It’s basically about drinking in the sets, the Middle Eastern and European scenery and thinking hard about Branagh’s ludicrous paste-on moustache, all curly and silvery and waxed to a fare-thee-well.
The only folks who will go this weekend will be the over-50 Joe and Jane Popcorn set, but that’s okay…right?
I don’t recall liking the 1974 Sidney Lumet version any better, but…wow, it was nominated for six Oscars?
Seriously, why did Branagh wear such an elaborate Poirot ‘stache when it’s obviously intended only to portray this celebrated fellow as an egoistic, self-inflating, dandified showoff? You look at it and start to imagine Poirot trimming and brushing and fixing it just so every morning, and being extra-careful to make it not look like some kind of doofusy silver handlebar. What does he do, devote an hour each morning and then re-wax and re-comb just before dinner?
The big opening scene in Jerusalem shows the charismatic Poirot announcing his conclusions about who killed a certain party to a crowd of 300 or 400 onlookers, like some kind of upscale circus barker. Why would a meticulous, world-renowned detective, a worldly man of refinement, want to simultaneously resolve a crime and put on a show for a mob? It’s a silly notion, but Branagh is determined to deliver a big visual wow effect for the ADD crowd. The scene happens only four or five minutes in, and I was already rolling my eyes.
Sergei Polunin, the Ukranian ballet dancer, is cast as Count Rudolph Andrenyi, an angry, hair-trigger husband of Lucy Boynton‘s Countess Elena Andrenyi. Branagh hired this physically agile young man so he can glare and threaten and wallop people who try to speak to his wife…fascinating!
The Middle Eastern and European scenery is gorgeously painted but very hard drive-ish and even cartoony. Some of the Murder on the Orient Express backdrops resemble the ones in Robert Zemeckis‘ The Polar Express (’04). You half expect to see Santa Claus and his reindeer flying along. All in all there’s no believing anything but the train itself, which, as noted, is fairly wonderful.