The power of Hollywood is the power to make us believe the unbelievable. That superheroes are living amongst us and using Bing. That Jai Courtney is someone who should be in films. And that Christmas starts in November. This week you can catch A Bad Moms Christmas (the film Twitter users are already calling “good to laugh at after such a long week”), Daddy’s Home 2 (a seasonal sequel to a movie I’m told exists), and Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express (which is so festive it starts in Jerusalem where a relic has been stollen).
It looks like a job for Belgium’s finest detective: Tintin! Just kidding, it’s Hercule Poirot (Branagh), who solves the crime and departs on the Orient Express. But by boring coincidence, the train also happens to be carrying a murder…
This film’s crimes are many. It tells instead of shows. It doesn’t make a lick of sense. And it tries to distract us from all this using picturesque scenery, A-list actors and Poirot’s ridiculous moustache, presumably used to tickle confessions out of suspects.
But flashy production design does not a murder mystery make. The key ingredient is suspense, and you won’t find any of that from here to Istanbul. It is perfectly watchable, just impossible to become invested, with all the inevitability of a delay on Southern Rail. It feels like a BBC programme shown on Christmas Day, when everyone’s already falling asleep anyway.
The adaptation fails to bring the page-turning quality of Agatha Christie’s novel to the big screen, resulting in an uninspired and uninspiring two hours that hardly warrants the name “Express”, but is so painfully average as to qualify as “Murder”.
Branagh’s is a preposterous picture populated by thinly-sketched archetypes played by first-class actors and Johnny Depp, who’s surely less rolling stock than laughing stock by this point.
Other players (all underused) include Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe and Michelle Pfeiffer. One of them has killed someone, but you won’t care who or even remember you watched it. Writing this I feel like Guy Pearce in Memento, constantly having to remind myself of what I’m doing in case I forget and start typing out my shopping list. Cheese.
“Forgive me,” says Branagh, “I am Belgian.” Well Ken, that excuse didn’t work for Gargomel, and it certainly won’t fly here.