Uncle Bardie’s Movie Spotlight: A Murder Needs A-solvin’

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017): 

“A passenger has died,” the brilliant detective, Hercule Poirot announces to the other passengers on the Orient Express. “He was murdered…So let us catch a killer.” Indeed. What would a movie, or for that matter a novel, with the word “murder” in the title be if there wasn’t a murder?

We’ve seen this movie before. In 1974, to be exact. Albert Finney was Sidney Lumet’s Hercule. Lumet gave us an adequate “Murder”, but there wasn’t any thing inspiring about Albert Finney. Other than the scenery and the costumes and a few famous actors going over the top with their caricatures of a performance, there wasn’t much to entertain.

When I saw that Kenneth Branagh, yes that Branagh. You know the one. The guy who played Hamlet in what may very well be the longest version of “Hamlet” ever, and directed it besides. He made sure he got all the words in which made me one of the few folks who sat through the whole darn thing. Well, Branagh directs this remake as well. And he plays the famous detective too.

The previews gave me some nice cinematography but that didn’t seem to be enough to make me give up an hour and fifty-four minutes of my time. I knew it wasn’t bad but I was pretty darn sure it wasn’t good either.

Boy, was I wrong.

Upon a recommendation from a friend, I gave this one a try. Branagh gives us a true entertainment in the best tradition of the word. Yes, there is a murder in this one. And, yes, Poirot is not happy about having to solve it. But what can he do? He’s the only brilliant detective on the Orient Express.

Just in case you didn’t know. This takes place in the 1930s and the Orient Express goes from Paris to Istanbul. And it’s going at a leisurely pace. In other words, slowly.

Poirot has just finished solving a crime in Jerusalem. He’s tired and needs a little me time. Little does he know he’s not going to get it when he steps onto that train in Istanbul. During his sojourn, a rich American approaches him. That American is Johnny Depp, being his most Johnny-Depp-ing. He’s become very a-Depp at that in the last few years. I think his portrayals of Tonto and Jack Sparrow have gone to his head.

Johnny Depp’s Edward Ratchett offers to purchase Poirot’s services. He has been threatened and he needs protection. Unfortunately, Poirot only works for people after they have been murdered. There’s just no way he’s going to be caught dead, protecting someone from getting dead. Once Edward Ratchett is dead, it’s a completely different story.

The piece de resistance of Branagh’s film is the third act. Here we see the humanity in a Poirot that others have only shown as a calculator. Here we are shown the impact of murder on its victim. Not only is the murdered a victim. All who knew and loved the victim have become the killer’s victims. Branagh and his Poirot has managed to pull the true import out of what many would consider a cliche and turn this entertainment into something wonderful. I’m sure Agatha Christie would be pleased.

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