The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Murder on the Orient Express (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Murder on the Orient Express (PG-13)

Kenneth Branagh invites us to his tedious Agatha Christie-themed birthday party in Murder on the Orient Express, a lifeless adaptation of the mystery novel.
Hercule Poirot (Branagh, who as director of this endeavor miscast himself) is a famed detective whose fastidiousness about tiny details helps him solve unsolvable cases. Called to London unexpectedly, Poirot travels from Istanbul on the luxurious train the Orient Express. In first class, he is accompanied by a collection of capital-C Characters who include:
• Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), a Judi Dench character with a Russian (or something) accent, and Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman), her attendant.
• Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), an American on the hunt for a husband who helpfully expositions her life story for no reason (not suspicious at all!) the first time she’s on screen.
• Ratchett (Johnny Depp), a cartoon of a wise-guy type.
• Mr. MacQueen (Josh Gad), his accountant.
• Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.), a doctor who might be an interesting character but gets very little to do.
• Mary (Daisy Ridley), a governess with some mysterious connection to Arbuthnot.
• Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a happy-go-lucky car salesman.
• Professor Hardman (Willem Dafoe), a snobby Austrian you will think of entirely as “Prof. Willem Dafoe” (which would be a fun addition to Celebrity Clue, should anyone want to make that game; side note: why is Celebrity Clue not a TV show?). 
• Pilar (Penélope Cruz), a severe missionary whose statements are from the “Azrael Abyss School of Unnecessary Gloom,” which may or may not be comically intended, I can’t tell.
• Count Rudolph Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin), a stormy ballet dancer who is Always On.
• Countess Elena Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton), his ballet dancer wife who is also A Lot.
Bouc (Tom Bateman), party-boy nephew of a train executive, is the on-site company representative for the Orient Express and an old friend of Poirot.
One night while asleep in his compartment, Poirot is woken up several times — by a sound from Mr. Ratchett’s cabin, by a call from Mrs. Hubbard, by the sound of someone in the hallway and finally by a train derailment caused by an avalanche. The train is secured enough after the derailment that the passengers go back to their cabins.
The next morning, Ratchett is found dead in his bed. He has been drugged with Barbital and stabbed multiple times. Poirot, who had met with Ratchett earlier in the journey and turned down an offer to be the man’s bodyguard, decides to investigate the murder and quickly surmises that the killer is still on the train.
Dun dun DUN!
Even if only half the audience knows the solution to this classic mystery, it would seem to me that the movie would need to go the extra mile to make either the investigation or the investigator compelling enough that you care about the action. The BBC’s Sherlock, for all its indulgences and fan service near the end, made the investigation and the characters fun enough that I remember almost none of the “solutions” but enjoyed all of the mysteries. 
Here, the costumes and set pieces and Branagh’s facial wiggery are all the movie has to offer aside from the quickly obvious answer to the whodunit. The performances are smothered in these external trappings. I never felt like I was seeing a lovelorn governess or a heartbroken princess. I was watching Michelle Pfeiffer vamp and Johnny Depp base yet another role on a mustache. Depp in particular seems to have lost the ability to melt into a role, even for a moment. 
There is no fun in this movie, no energy, no liveliness. I’m not saying that this movie needed to be a joke factory, but it needs to have some sense of playfulness, something to make this very stagey, very amusement-park-ride like story feel like it is alive in some kind of universe, even if it’s a fantastical one. As it is, this feels like a magazine shoot or an old-fashioned tableaux, something that is meant to produce a visual effect for a moment (which it does do very well) but nothing more lasting. C
Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements, according to the MPAA. Directed by Kenneth Branagh with a screenplay by Michael Green (from the Agatha Christie novel), Murder on the Orient Express is an hour and 54 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox. 

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