Magazine article Variety

Murder on the Orient Express

Magazine article Variety

Murder on the Orient Express

Article excerpt

Murder on the Orient Express

REVIEW

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer

Over the course of his 28-year directing career, Kenneth Branagh has adapted everything from literary classics (Shakespeare's "Henry V") to comicbook pulp (putting a distinctive Dutch-angle slant on Marvel's "Thor"). Now, with "Murder on the Orient Express," the audacious multi-talent forsakes brows both high and low in favor of the most extravagant mustache moviegoers have ever seen: a flamboyant spun-sugar swirl of silvery whiskers better suited to a circus strongman, or perhaps a turn-of-the-century unicycle salesman - than Agatha Christie's beloved Belgian sleuth.

"My name is Hercule Poirot, and I am probably the greatest detective in the world," Branagh pronounces from behind his elaborate lip toupee. From a character perspective, such ostentatious facial hair is clearly compensating for something (not intellect, for Poirot is notoriously gifted when it comes to using his "little gray cells"), though it requires an actor who is completely confident in his own abilities to pull off, as a lesser thespian might be upstaged by it entirely.

As it happens, Christie saw Poirot's mustache as an over-the-top indulgence, an eccentric extension of the detective's personality. (She was reportedly never satisfied with the wax-tipped falsie Albert Finney wore in the 1974 version, directed by Sidney Lumet.) That film has its charms, among them an allstar cast ranging from Ingrid Bergman to Sean Connery, but hasn't held up particularly well, leaving room for Branagh to give the classic mystery a fresh spin - although the undertaking also presents a formidable challenge, considering that its solution is one of the worst-kept secrets in English literature.

For those who know the outcome of "Murder" going in, the question isn't so much whodunit as how Branagh will keep audiences guessing. The film's opening is as elegant as they come, an invention of screenwriter Michael Green that introduces the world-renowned detective as a cultivated gentleman, whom Branagh plays himself, wearing the character's thick French accent like a fine waistcoat - with pride, and the slightest dash of buffoonery: We meet Poirot obsessing over whether his Jerusalem hosts can prepare the perfect four-minute soft-boiled egg when the theft of an important relic demands his attention. In the most theatrical fashion imaginable, Poirot examines the scant evidence and delivers what for him can be the only logical conclusion to the crowd, anticipating even the guilty party's escape plan. …

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