|A beautifully crafted poster for Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express that pitches bloody scarlet-red locomotive smoke against the title's neon blue to fine effect|
Murder on the Orient Express is a new adaptation of Agatha Christie's (Endless Night (1967)) same-titled 1934 'whodunit' classic crime novel, written by Michael Green (Green Lantern (2011)) and directed by Kenneth Branagh (Thor (2011)).
Belgian master detective Hercule Poirot is in Istanbul with the intent to take some vacation, beginning with a travel on the famous Orient Express. But as a mysterious murder takes place on the train, he is forced to utilize all of his detective's skill to find the perp.
This is the second ambitious big-screen adaptation of the novel, following Sidney Lumet's underwhelming 1974 film of the same title. While Albert Finney came off as a didactic Poirot in a rather sleep-inducing film that build up to a hard-to-believe climax in the for some reason better regarded 1970s movie, Branagh's version of Poirot here, whom he plays while also directing the piece, is easier to take. The character is dead sure of himself, and his detective's abilities are almost too good to be true at times, but he is also a likable and a bit odd man in Branagh's lively rendition, wearing what must be this year's movie mustache. SPOILER The crux of the story here, in character terms, forces Poirot to recognize that in the pursuit of justice, there does exist a grey area between the light that is right and the darkness that is wrong.
This film is a lavish production and an indulgence, whether searched out for its train-bound plot, Christie material, new presentation of a beloved leading character or surplus of stars. I have no particular fondness for the British crime tradition and no relationship with Christie's authorship, - but I do love trains in films, and movie stars.
How much of the film here has an actual train in it is hard to say, - much is crafted with capable CGI, - but there certainly is a marvelously designed interior set of the sumptuous express, which is in itself quite fantastical.
The adaptation- and literarily minded Branagh the filmmaker is a great match with Poirot, and he attacks the part and film with enthusiastic verve and intricate, long camera flights; perhaps realizing the great opportunity this is for him, his first real, both leading and directing possible franchise.
Several in the starry cast douse their competent magic on Murder on the Orient Express: Judi Dench (J. Edgar (2011)) is as delightful as ever, Derek Jacobi (Hereafter (2010)) brings a subtle integrity to his part; Penélope Cruz (Nine (2009)), Willem Dafoe (The Dust of Time (2008)) and Johnny Depp (The Libertine (2004)) are all enjoyable veterans, and among the fresher faces, Josh Gad (Crossing Over (2009)) and Daisy Ridley (Scrawl (2015)) esteem themselves here.
If this thoroughly handsome and highly entertaining murder mystery resorts a bit to speechifying towards the end, it is forgivable: Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express is a winner.
Kenneth Branagh: Dunkirk (2017) - Nolan champions cinema with masterful war movie (actor)
My Week with Marilyn (2011) or, The Prince, the Showgirl and Me (actor)
Celebrity (1998) or, Stars in New York (actor)
Watch a trailer for the film here
Cost: 55 mil. $
Box office: 274.6 mil. $ and counting
= Uncertainty - but already a big hit
[Murder on the Orient Express premiered 3 November (UK and Ireland) and runs 114 minutes. Fox announced the project in December 2013 with Branagh entering development in June 2015. Filming took place on 65 mm, - a rare choice today, which Branagh had witnessed used recently in Christopher Nolan's masterpiece Dunkirk, which he had a role in, - from November 2016 - May 2017 in Italy, Malta, New Zealand, England, including in London, in France, Switzerland and in Istanbul, Turkey. The film opened #3, behind holdover hit Thor: Ragnarok and fellow new release Daddy's Home 2, to a 28.6 mil. $ first weekend in North America, where it spent its second week at #5 before leaving the top 5 and has grossed 92.7 mil. $ to date. It has so far also hauled home 34.3 mil. $ from China and 28.7 mil. $ from the UK. Its last big opening as far as the schedule looks at the moment is in France today 12/13. The sequel teased in the film' end, Murder on the Nile, is likely to materialize, since the film is such a hit, - however, the 55 mil. $ budget seems quite cheap considering the international, multi-star, luxurious production, and it may have actually been higher. Branagh is set to return as director-star with Murder on the Nile and as director on YA adaptation Artemis Fowl (2019) for Disney. Murder on the Orient Express is rotten at 58 % with a 6.1 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]
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