Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Branagh is a great Poirot but a bad Agatha Christie storyteller

​Murder on the Orient Express 2017..would leave you with a very warm feeling about a potential Poirot movie franchise
The classic 1974 version never existed
The first hour wasn’t so much better than the last hour

Like last years surprisingly watchable Magnificent Seven remake,this movie is crawling out from under a classic and though Branagh is a good director, he is no Sidney Lumet.

This is less of a problem in a dashing introductory first hour when (like the  Magnificent Seven remake) a smartly written take on the material and some sharp storytelling make this look like a new Sherlockian movie franchise in the making.

Branagh does a great job with Poirot breathing  real life into a character I had previously thought was a bit of a cold fish. You might say this reinvention is Robert Downey Jnrish without the martial arts. He manages to capture the difference between Holmes and Poirot - the |Belgian isn’t a deductive super computer but a sufferer of obsessive compulsive disorder who has turned it into a talent and a lifestyle.

As soon as it runs into Christie’s brilliant plot however (arguably THE whodunnit murder mystery, based on the most shocking crime of the 1930s) it falters. Lumets classic version in 1974 only barely holds the 6+ plot threads together but it does with hefty dopings of horror and tragedy.

Branagh, good as he is cannot do this level of juggling, resulting in a confused, rushed middle and then overstages the finale. Is this a common Kenneth Branagh as director thing? more interested in characters than plot? (based on this and the first Thor film you would have to say that's a yes).

In several earlier moments he has Poirot surveying crime scenes directly from above with the camera slowly descending from above into the room. It’s very subtle and effective - then we have a climax that looks right out of a bad DC superhero movie. Does it really need the Last Supper shot? That must be a hideous cliche by now. I loved it in Watchmen but please this material doesn’t need to play postmodern games with classic images - it should be classic images itself.

Performances are generally ok though some of the more senior cast seem to think they are playing alongside Peter Ustinov and Elizabeth Taylor.

It is definitely watchable and based on this I’d certainly watch the proposed Death On The Nile sequel but I would hope it has a different director. These books are from one of the premier female novelists of all time - so how about a female director - what is Patty Jenkins doing between Wonder Woman films?

One nitpick- if you can flawlessly create 1930s Istanbul and gorgeous mountain vistas with the wonder of CGI, could you not also add some cold breath effects to the actors supposedly standing around high up in a mountain range in huge piles of snow?

I saw this on a free screening with Searcys who have never served me a bad cocktail, and have always sent me away happy if not entirely sober.

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