Dull, lifeless retelling |


Kenneth  Branagh directs and stars as the legendary sleuth Hercule Poirot in the latest remake of Agatha Christie’s hypnotic reading of “Murder on the Orient Express.”

And there is no doubt that the cast of this latest exploit of Ms. Christie’s famed novel (there was also a film version in 1934 and 1974) is more than up to their theatrical stuff with a virtual “who’s who” of Hollywood’s very best, anchored by Madame Judi Dench with Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Penélope Cruz and Michelle Pfeiffer heading the all-star cast which surrounds the murder of none other than Johnny Depp.

One could only hope! The story begins in the late 1800s with Poirot in Jerusalem, where he easily solves the theft of a precious religious artifact by a police captain as easily as you or I would tie a shoelace—and does so just after his morning breakfast! Seemingly moments later, Poirot is scurrying off to board an ocean liner and voyage to Istanbul where he is to board the famed Orient Express train to Paris.

Both the penned version of the Orient Express describes (and its modern-day counterpart offers) the lap of luxury that only the very elite used (and can today afford) this fast-paced rail transportation through the rugged mountains of Eastern Europe.

As the Orient Express train weaves its way through the forbidden European countryside (of course during the worse winter on record), we are quickly introduced to each of the likewise formidable characters who find themselves, for one reason or another —all traveling on the same train. The most notorious of the lot is Depp’s Edward Ratchett, a gangster and thief of rare (and not so rare) antiquities who himself is brutally stabbed to death (12 times) in the wee hours of the morning and it is up to Poirot to put together the many clues that lead this case up one “dark alleyway” to another.

False clues, hidden meanings and “dead” ends all converge to force Poirot to engage one possible murderer to another.

• Was it Gad’s Hector Macqueen, personal attaché to Ratchett who was skimming money off the gangster at every whim?

• Or Pfeiffer’s Caroline Hubbard, a jilter one-time lover who was out for personal revenge?

• What about the former Christian missionary Cruz who was assaulted by Ratchett during a botched kidnapping of her former employer’s young child?

As Pioirot is being spun in different directions with multiple clues, the Orient Express train collides with an avalanche which causes it to derail at the front of a tunnel; stranding passengers and crew alike with one (or more) potential suspects still at large.

Branagh has great fun as the legendary inspector, but we are left with more questions than answers in this 140-minute drama. With a screenplay by Michael Green, Branagh’s Pioirot is constantly on the move and in the face of each and every would be suspect, brow beating them all into submission and peeling away their cover stories to reveal the deepest darkness secrets they have been concealing.

Thankfully “Murder on the Orient Express” has little of Depp’s Ratchett, otherwise we would all be walking the plank in another senseless “Pirates of the Caribbean” film since Mr. Depp knowns no other role.

We do see his Mr. Ratchett in black-and-white flashbacks during specific times when Pioirot is interrogating a suspect. As hideous as Ratchett’s death is, so too is Green’s script which is hollow and void of any passion except for the director’s leading character.

Each of the dozen possible suspects are as dull and lifeless as the vacant landscape the Orient Express train slammed into. Which brings up another issue.

The setting for “Murder on the Orient Express” is during the coldest of winters, yet none of the actors or crew repairing the Orient Express train seem to have even a wisp of cold breath coming from their lips.

Having attended college at Brigham Young University in Provo and lived in America’s Utah for many years, this writer can testify, Dear Reader, that the human body expels a near frozen vapor with every breath when outside temperatures are at subzero.

Well, there is nary an ice cube to go around by any other actors on the set, clearly performing their scripted lines in front of a blue screen within a soundstage. Fake! Fake! Fake! If you have a hankering for a great novel this holiday season, do find a printed copy of Ms. Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”.

I think you will find a reading of this well told tale to be more intellectually stimulating than this dull and “lifeless” retelling.

Questions, or travel suggestions, write me at readingruffolos@gmail.com.

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