The Kenneth Branagh-directed remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” (20th Century Fox), in which Branagh also stars as Agatha Christie’s Belgian master detective Hercule Poirot, inspires its own set of mysteries. For example, why would anyone remake a perfectly good movie? The 1974 version, directed by Sidney Lumet, was considered to be one of the best movies of that year. Ingrid Bergman won her third career Oscar for her portrayal of missionary Greta.
To be clear, there is not a single memorable or Oscar-worthy performance in Branagh’s version. That says a lot considering that the multi-character cast includes out actor Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Leslie Odom Jr. and Willem Dafoe.
Another mystery is who exactly is the target audience for the movie. If it’s the people who enjoyed the 1974 edition, and their memories are still sharp, they will already know who is responsible for the murder (no spoilers here, scout’s honor). So why would they want to watch an inferior remake? If Branagh wanted to remake an imperfect murder mystery he could have started with the inexplicably popular “Clue” (apologies to Madeline Kahn).
After solving a mysterious crime at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem in 1934, Poirot is looking forward to taking a holiday. But a symmetry-obsessed gumshoe’s work is never done and soon he finds himself on board the titular train. There he meets a vast array of travelers including tough-talking antiques dealer Ratchet (Depp), his valet Masterman (Jacobi) and his secretary MacQueen (Gad). There is also racist Austrian professor Hardman (Dafoe), missionary Estravados (Cruz), Princess Dragomiroff (Dench) and her handmaiden Hildegarde (Olivia Colman), Doctor Arbuthnot (Odom), and American cougar Hubbard (Pfeiffer), to mention a few more.
And then Ratchet is found brutally murdered in his compartment. As you might have guessed, no one is who they say they are or are more than they say. All of this is revealed as Poirot interrogates the passengers while the train is snowbound following an avalanche. With a nod to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping as the cause for the revenge killing, Poirot meticulously unravels the mystery.
In an effort to find something nice to say about “Murder on the Orient Express”, the movie looks good. Much of that is probably equal parts scenic design and CGI. The period costumes are also a sight to behold. Rating: C-