‘Orient Express’ is awf- no, it’s not awful, I just didn’t enjoy it

Seriously, he went outside with this thing on his face. Images courtesy 20th Century Fox.

minus infinity/10 Murder on the Orient Express is a boring, dull, awful movie and I hated every minute of it.

That’s not fair. Let’s start over-

4/10 Murder on the Orient Express is a decent but forgettable movie with a lot of elements that annoy me personally, most of which revolve around producer/director/star Kenneth Branagh.

The movie follows Hercule Poirot (Branagh), a Belgian riff on Sherlock Holmes, through his most famous mystery — Poirot and 13 other people are taking the long train from Istanbul to Paris when one of them, Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp), is murdered. Poirot puts all his skills to the test to discover the killer.

My problem with Kenneth Branagh is that he puts himself as the star of his own shows whenever he can, and it always comes off like a vanity project made by someone who isn’t really good enough to pull that off. He’s a better than decent actor when someone else is directing him, as memorable turns in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the more recent Dunkirk can attest, but he’s not a very good director, and he’s not self-conscious enough to get the best out of himself in roles that are supposed to be completely serious.

The way this all comes out in Murder on the Orient Express is basically just sloppiness. Branagh’s “Spielberg but shitty” style calls for a lot of long one-shots that call a lot of attention to themselves and are off-center or otherwise just wrong at various points. The lowlight is an insistence in a couple of different places to track passengers with a camera shooting through windows from the outside of the train, giving the shot an epileptic feel as it rapidly flashes back and forth from window to train exterior.

Begging the question, why didn’t they make the side of the train set removable so they could shoot from the outside without a wall there? They made the roof removable so they could shoot more shitty, off-center one-shots from a God’s eye angle, so whoever built the train clearly understands the technology.

It also pops up in his performance. The only thing more obnoxious and fake-seeming than his French accent is that fucking mustache, and he gives himself lines like, “When you lie, exactly two people will know: God and me.” Just, fuck off dude.

Another hindrance to the film’s all-star cast — and this is all too common — is the tendency for big names to take bit roles in big movies. Dench, Dafoe and Depp all fade to the background while less established actors like Daisey Ridly and Leslie Odom, Jr., do most of the heavy lifting.

Outside of the central character being unwatchable and several of the more ambitious shots being poorly executed, Murder on the Orient Express is decent. The set and costume designs are great, and if he can do nothing else, after a 35 year career, Branagh can conjure a spectacular cast. When Judi Dench owes you a favor, it’s tough to go wrong. That said, none of the characters really stand out and poor direction really hurts performances, so the edge isn’t that sharp. Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad and maybe Willem Dafoe give the best performances in the ensemble.

The element that really leaves a bad taste in the mouth is the way Murder on the Orient Express handles its central mystery. You can’t really be mysterious about a famous story that was written in 1934 — we all know who did it, the compelling energy of the story needs to come from somewhere else, but this version doesn’t really offer anything along those lines.

One last thing — spoilers for this 83 year old story below.

***

At the end when he figures it out, Poirot makes a big, baffling production about not knowing what justice is here. He doesn’t seem to be focused on the revenge that might justify the murder to some, but rather the fact that the 12 murderers stabbed Ratchet once each and that only a handful of the wounds would be fatal on their own. That’s called conspiracy to commit murder, Sherlock. They conspired to commit murder. They all lied about their identities — to you specifically, there wasn’t anyone else on the train to lie to. I don’t get the conflict here.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions and suggestions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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