Movie Reviews TV

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS Remade

–by Dr. Laura Wilhelm, LauraWil Intercultural

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/12/17 – The hit CBS series WISDOM OF THE CROWD has reacquainted American viewing audiences with the concepts of collective guilt and collective justice.  The complex computer-based storylines boil down to the simple need of an anguished father to solve the murder of his much-loved daughter, Mia (“mine”).

Of course, the murder of an innocent catalyzes one of the oldest human stories ever told.  Still need a clue?

What if (perhaps) twelve of the people closest to said innocent couldn’t stop the crime?  And the story (let’s say) started off in Jerusalem?

This Christian parable moves the plot of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS written in 1934 by Agatha Christie (1890-1976), the world’s most widely read author.  She is outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare!  And indeed, Christie’s modern oeuvre contains many similar elements.

Kenneth Branagh’s all new screen adaptation of MOTOE starring himself in the central role of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot was released on Friday, November 10th, 2017 by Twentieth Century Fox.  Joining Branagh aboard this celebrated train are equally celebrated thespians Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, and many more in a suitably spectacular ensemble.

Hercule Poirot is summoned back to England after his crime-solving coup in the Holy Land and books last-minute passage on the famed Orient Express for what looks to be a scenic three-day journey.  He is approached by a nervous gentleman (Depp) who needs a bodyguard, but Poirot turns him down.

The gentleman soon shows up dead with multiple stab wounds just as the train is stalled by snow falling on the tracks.  EGAD!

Poirot naturally takes it upon himself to investigate, soon noticing that the stab wounds on the corpse all seem to differ from each other.  Could this mean multiple hands at work?  Our hero and his “little grey cells” must make haste to figure out exactly which ones before the murderer strikes again!

“There is right and there is wrong,” Poirot says before this sad morality tale unfolds and challenges his simple formulation.  As in WISDOM OF THE CROWD, murder is shown in MOTOE to fracture the souls of the survivors and demand collective justice.

Kenneth Branagh still manages to look quite young and handsome as Hercule Poirot beneath the trademark handlebar moustache.  Penelope Cruz stands out as a glowering Judas figure who seems to have been set up against her will in this dark scenario much like the original “traitor.”  An arch and ardent Michelle Pfeiffer turns out to be the murder’s prime mover and movingly sings one of the final songs, “Never Forget,” on the marvelous soundtrack.

Like Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRKMOTOE was shot in 65mm film by Oscar-worthy cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos for a comparably vivid period feel.  MOTOE’ Sexotic costumes and sets delight the eye without distracting attention from the detective plot.

The historical context adds greatly to the interest of MOTOE.  The horrific abduction and unmotivated murder of the child at the movie’s center is based upon the case of the Lindbergh baby.

MOTOE’S international cast with its petty prejudices anticipates the sense of paranoia and impending menace that started to plague the Western world following WW I and WW II.  So does the dramatic stoppage of the train at an isolated location in the Balkans, the “powder keg” that lit the match for WW I.

MOTOE has already sold over a billion copies in English and another billion in a hundred other languages.  Branagh’s film is sure to reignite reader fascination with this fantastic tale.

Agatha Christie’s feminine take on a morally ambiguous situation still makes MOTOE seem decades ahead of its time.  It is ultra satisfying to see the hyper-rational Hercule Poirot listen to his heart for once and learn some hard lessons about human life from murderers.  In the words of THE NEW YORK TIMES, “what more. . .can a mystery addict desire?”

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