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Murder on the Orient Express (2017)


Watch Murder on the Orient Express Full Movie Online,” which was published in 1934, and turned into a Sidney Lumet film forty years later, retains a certain cachet as one of Christie’s most ingenious works. I was alarmed to realize, upon grinding through it once again, that ingenuity is all it has. The characters are perfunctory; their actions are described in galumphing style (“Hector MacQueen leaned forward interestedly”); the ethnic stereotyping is an embarrassment (“A big, swarthy Italian was picking his teeth with gusto”); and the Queen of Crime, as she is worshipfully known, cannot resist slipping into breathless italics at the prospect of something significant (“Neatly folded on the top of the case was a thin scarlet silk kimono embroidered with dragons”).
Given that Christie’s books have sold more than two billion copies, there’s no impugning the taste of her fans, but the fact remains that, in many of her stories, the murder should technically be logged as the second death, the life of the prose having been snuffed out long before that of the victim. Compare Georges Simenon, the creator of Inspector Maigret. He may not have been the commercial equal of Dame Agatha, with sales as paltry as half a billion copies, yet he outdid her in industry—he produced more than four hundred novels, to her sixty-six—and in pretty much everything else, displaying a frighteningly intimate acquaintance with mortal weakness for which she could only grope. If you have just started a Christie, and somebody tells you the murderer’s name, there is no reason to go on reading. With a Simenon, there is no reason to stop.
All of which means that Kenneth Branagh, the director of the new “Murder on the Orient Express,” and Michael Green, his screenwriter, are free to do as they like. There is nothing to desecrate, and younger viewers will not recall, let alone cleave to, the 1974 version, which starred Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, the dandyish Belgian detective. So what has changed? Well, we are still in the mid-nineteen-thirties, Branagh being loath to scrape off the period charms that encrust the story. I see his point. For those of us whose main concern, as we board a train, is whether or not we will get a seat, there will always be something dreamily bracing about the sight of the rich and lazy wondering what cocktail to sip in the restaurant car. And the clothes! Judi Dench, as the frosty Princess Dragomiroff, arrives in feathers and fur, and coat fetishists will swoon: Poirot’s has a collar of the rarest Astrakhan, while that of the villainous Ratchett (Johnny Depp) appears to have been stitched from the hide of a well-bred mammoth.
The opening page of the book finds Poirot in Aleppo, and I was hoping that the movie might pay tribute, by way of imaginative reconstruction, to that all but ruined city. Sadly not. Instead, we begin in Jerusalem and skip to Istanbul, from where the Orient Express sets off on its long and winding route to the grayer delights of the Occident. An avalanche stops it on its tracks. Ratchett is discovered dead, unmourned, and Poirot ascertains that the solution to the crime must lie within a single locked carriage, which, like a mobile country house, contains first-class passengers and a sprinkling of the lower orders. Under his unfoolable eye, it will become the carriage of justice.
According to the end credits, Poirot is played by Branagh himself. So it was him. I was glad to have the mystery cleared up, having spent the previous two hours gazing at a vast expanse of salty mustache and trying to work out who, or what, might possibly be hiding behind it. Listening to him feels like chatting with your neighbor over the garden hedge, and it’s all too easy to be distracted by the foliage, I’m afraid, as he maunders on about knife wounds and sleeping potions and missing kimonos. The clues are at once vital, finicky, and dull, and Branagh, perhaps fearful that his tale might be sagging, peps it up with escapades that would have had Christie dropping her teapot. Poirot, who starts by fretting about boiled eggs, finds himself chasing a caped figure along a precarious bridge. He even gets a shot in the arm. The movie could use one, too.
Contriving somehow both to dawdle and to rush, “Murder on the Orient Express” is handsome, undemanding, and almost wholly bereft of purpose. Green adds some heavy-duty dialogue, in the final reel, about “the fracture of the human soul,” but Christie’s puzzles are too flimsy to bear such ruminative weight. If today’s moviegoers are lured in, it will be for the same reason, I suspect, that they came in 1974: to observe an all-star cast—could there be a more antiquated phrase?—at play. Lumet had Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, and Ingrid Bergman, who won an Oscar for her pains. Branagh has Depp, Dench, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, and Daisy Ridley, who don’t seem to be enjoying themselves half as lavishly as their predecessors did. The exception is Michelle Pfeiffer, as a husband-hunter, who yields glimpses of sadness behind her silken allure, and tells Poirot, at the explanatory climax, “You’re an awfully clever man.” He gathers the suspects together at the entrance to a tunnel, thus putting them at serious risk of being shunted from behind, and reveals the foreseeable truth. Again, I hate to offend Christie’s devotees, but she definitely cheats here, granting Poirot extraneous information that was in no way available on the train. He would claim, naturally, to be employing “ze leetle gray cells.” Yeah, right. More like ze leetle Google.


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