The Moustache Needs An Agent

Murder On The Orient Express 
Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi and Leslie Odom, Jr.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Scriptwriter: Michael Green from the Agatha Christie 1934 novel with the same title
Composer: Patrick Doyle
Cinematographer: Haris Zambarloukos
Scott Free Productions/20th Century Fox
Rating: R for violence and themed material
Running Length: 115 minutes 

Agatha Christie was a prolific mystery writer and many of her novels have been made into films. Her plots were intriguing and detailed. For those who tire of crossword puzzles or board puzzles, try one of her many books. One of the most intriguing stories, a murder that occurs on a train, made a wonderful film in 1974 that starred Alfred Finney as the famous French detective Hercule Poirot, and this wonderful cast of Hollywood stars including Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Martin Balsam, Anthony Perkins, Wendy Hiller, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Widmark. That director was Sidney Lumet. This time around, Kenneth Branagh not only directs, but takes on the role of Hercule Poirot. His cast has new (Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad) stars and established stars, that include Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp and Derek Jacobi. It’s almost as good as the first...with the help of Patrick Doyle’s incisive sound track. Who is the murderer? 

The film begins with Poirot rapidly solving a case in Jerusalem, then taking on another in London. In order to get there rapidly, passage is booked for him on the famed Orient Express---in the mid 1930’s in all its luxurious glory. Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is a gangster and thinks someone is trying to kill him.  The train is stopped by an snow slide in the mountains, so the passengers are trapped while Poirot tries to solve a murder case. There are many personalities among the passengers that include a rich woman (Judi Depp), a governess (Daisy Ridley), policeman (Willem Dafoe), physician (Leslie Odom, Jr.), butler (Derek Jacobi) and the mystery woman (Michelle Pfeiffer.) As the group waits to be rescued, strange things begin to happen to frighten everyone. What is going on? Can Hercule Poirot solve this dilemma? 

There are two unnamed actors in this film. The first is the train, which has a personality all its own and lets you see the glamour of travel for the rich. The other is Hercule Poirot’s moustache, that in one scene, is shown with a stylized covering all its own as Poirot gets ready for sleep. Plus, a third, and that is Patrick Doyle’s wonderful soundtrack that brings out mood music of that period, and lush background music to match each scene. 

Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot is a man who lives by patterns and when something isn't right, he literally twitches to set it right (reference Sheldon in “The Big Bang Theory.”) You don't quite get into Branagh’s character until the last half of the film, when being on a stranded train becomes almost claustrophobic and Poirot begins to add up small details in his mind. You can almost see the wheels turning.  Johnny Depp’s Ratchett looks like a gangster from Day One, and Depp carries this role and accent well. Dame Judi Dench is elegance personified, but her eyes tell the story here. Daisy Ridley is the smart younger person on the train, and adds things up much like Poirot. Willem Dafoe has the longest speech of explanation, while Derek Jacobi and Louis Odom, Jr. are on the sidelines a bit, but each has something to add in their own way, quiet or violent.  Michelle Pfeiffer is both elegant and troubled at the same time. Her face says it all. All in all, this cast does make a team, but I think Pfeiffer steals her scenes with an enigmatic look. 

“Murder On The Orient Express” tells a mystery story in bits and pieces. My favorite parts were watching Poirot detailing everything to his likeness and the splendid shots of the train on its way.  For more of Agatha Christie’s twists and turns, see “Death On The Nile” (1978) with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and a cast including Bette Davis, David Niven, Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith and Jack Warden. Hollywood ensembles doing fine work. 


Copyright 2017 Marie Asner