So it’s my birthday… and in honor thereof I have a very special review. Quick reviews:
Birthday donuts 10% off- 5.5/5 stars
Seeing a good movie with friends- 6/5 stars
Murder on the Orient Express… All the stars!! Well, 4.8/5
Ok, it’s not perfect, but it was so good, and I was so on a sugar high. For parental types, there is one shot of the dead guy, a couple scenes of mild violence, and a little innuendo. But there is almost zero language and though it might go over some 13yr olds heads if you think they won’t get bored with all the ‘who done it,” then feel free to take them.
Now we get spoilery. And I am going deep. So buckle up
First, it has been twenty-*cough* years since I read Agatha Christie’s book on which this film is based. So I am coming to this with almost zero memory of the original. I went on an Agatha Christie bender one summer and they all sort of run together. I will be getting a Kindle copy so that I can refresh myself and make comparative notes later on. Practical upshot: this review is not about conformity to the original material or characters, but purely as how it works for this film.
The scenery is magical. The cinematography is breathtaking at times. It contrasts in scope with the cramped and narrow quarters the passengers find themselves in. We see a wide world around them and yet it is the intimacy of their connectedness that will drive the narrative forward towards its destination.
Kenneth Branagh has finally grown up. His ego has at last cooled to the point where you no longer see him playing himself playing the character. He utterly disappears as Hercule Poirot and you see nothing but the mustache. His ridiculous laugh is the best. His struggle to put the pieces together and his emotional journey from balanced justice to perhaps there is room for gray. The directing he delivers in the few scenes where he is not present is clearly marvelous, as well. He gets in some delightfully eccentric one liners and as the tension of the mystery deepens his internal tension is also strained. I’m not sure I believe his attachment to the deceased Katherine. There were places where I would have liked to see a bit more emotion from him, but if I have to pick between over the top or too understated, I’ll take the later.
Jonny Depp as Edward Ratchett a.k.a., the dude what dies (hey, I said spoilers) is nice since I have been liking him less and less as an actor, and yet he too seems to have returned to the skill for which he originally drew an audience. He didn’t steal the spotlight, but he of course cannot fade into the background. We never like him, and that is perfect. But perhaps by the end we have just enough sympathy for a despicable man whose sins catch up with him.
Michelle Pfeiffer was the largest question mark going in since one is never sure if she will deliver a good performance or an atrocious one. She also tends to be a heavy gravity spot on screen, but here she shines in how subtle she is throughout the piece. Even her ending scene, the most intense moment of emotional revelation, she delivers with a subtlety I don’t normally associate with her.
Dame Judy is always a delight, though the Russian accent could have been a bit better, both more pronounced and more consistent, but she was delightful.
Penelope Cruz as Pilar Estravados. Gold. An intensity that we don’t really understand until Hercule’s reveal in the tunnel, but boy is it done well. And once we understand the why, it becomes remarkable that she is even in one piece mentally. She carries the cross of guilt with a stunning accuracy that anyone who has blamed themselves for something they could not control but should have will recognize and understand.
Josh Gad, ya’ll. Thanks to previous experience I expected him to crack a joke or burst in to song at any moment, but delivered on a depth I was truely pleased to see. I think we are watching him become the next Philip Seymour Hoffman (hopefully without the drug addiction). His character Hector MacQueen is a delightful puzzle full of layers.
Daisy Ridley of Star Wars fame is another actor I think we are watching build a tremendous career. She inhabits a very specific role as Rey in The Force Awakens, yet steps in to Miss Mary Debenham with such grace that one forgets and assumes that she must have been in every good film, ever. I am looking forward to seeing her in Chaos Walking in 2019 along with all the upcoming Star Wars jazz.
Leslie Odom Jr. plays a compassionate and simultaneously passionate Dr. Arbuthnot. He delivers his lies in such a way that the audience knows he’s lying, but one can’t figure out why. He is by far the most sympathetic character, which makes the needle of accusation swinging his way as dramatically as it does a real shock to the system.
Olivia Coleman as Hildegarde Schmidt is somber anchor who also gets all our sympathies when we see how little she is valued by those around her and how she warms to Poirot’s praise.
Mr. Marquez, played by, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo provides a needed bit of levity to the grave situation of the murder, and yet he also has a motive. He is one of the least developed characters, but to cut him out would rob the movie of much of it’s charm.
Derek Jacobi is always a welcome face on screen and rarely disappoints. He plays the butler and he did it. Sort of.
The count and countess, Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton, are a muddled ball of mystery and intrigue unto themselves. They play such dynamic and dysfunctional people with such ease, one wonders at their own mental wholeness. It makes their healing, or at least, their first steps towards it, the more rewarding.
And guess what? The list just keeps going. So all these amazing actors, including Willem Dafoe, could totally trample each other on the way to the spot light, but they don’t. There’s no struggle to be in the forefront, only the story playing out before you. And for a complicated mystery, woven through nearly a dozen different lives, to play out well on the screen without one person pulling you out of the story is extraordinary. They work together seamlessly. And the result is an engaging story that now I want to go back and watch again.
The reveals get tricky at the end as not everything one picks up on ends up being significant and some things feel as though they come out of left field, but overall the emotional rollercoaster is just what you want it to be: a suspenseful, thrilling, intelligent, and surprisingly funny journey to find justice and then decide if we as human beings even can.
As far as gifts to me go, this one was pretty dang good. Happy birthday to me, and to you enjoy the show.