As a big Agatha Christie fan, I am naturally 100% seeing this film, since it’ll be cool to see a modern version of this classic mystery. Maybe I’m overreacting to the ‘words on the screen’ aesthetic, but it seems like MOTOE may have a bit of a Sherlock-esque vibe to it. (Let’s hope it’s more the first season of Sherlock than S4.) The cast is also appropriately star-studded, if obviously lacking in comparison to the 1974 adaptation — no shame there, as man alive, look at that list of names! Eleven former Oscar nominees?! Stand back!
In fact, this new version isn’t too shabby with six Oscar nominees in the cast. I admit, I was a little annoyed at the way the credits were presented until I realized they were simply in alphabetical order. My feeling was that poor Michelle Pfeiffer was being shafted by being lumped in with ‘the others’ while the five bigger names were on the first screen. I felt Branagh should’ve gone onto the second screen as a sign of good faith, since he was the director of the film anyway and already had extra stroke.
As you can tell, I’m always looking for ways to criticize Kenneth Branagh since he, to put it bluntly, is not a favourite of mine. For a guy with such a distinguished reputation, I find him to be an incredible ham and an incredibly broad actor. His only good roles, in my opinion, are the ones that naturally play into that broadness (such as Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter, or as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing). Branagh was also pretty excellent in his adaptation of “Hamlet,” a legitimately great film, though even in that case, he kind of broadened Hamlet out a little bit.
Now, it’s worth noting that Branagh directed Hamlet and Much Ado himself, and his truly bad performances* all came in movies directed by other people. I’m not sure what this says about Mr. Branagh…is he too nice to turn down instruction from other directors? Does he get so focused on the filmmaking process when directing that it actually helps his performance by muting his naturally hammy instincts? Or maybe he’s actually a GOOD actor and I’m just cherry-picking a few bad roles? Nah, that couldn’t be it.
* 1. his godawful Woody Allen impersonation in Celebrity
2. his half-assed Olivier impression in My Week With Marilyn that somehow earned him an Oscar nomination
3. his terribly broad version of Iago in the Oliver Parker “Othello” adaptation that ruined one of the greatest villains in literary history and must have been an inspiration for Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood
4. his villain in Wild Wild West, to which even Jesse Eisenberg would’ve been like, “hmm, he played that a little over the top”
The irony is, I actually like just about every movie Branagh has directed, so I have pretty high hopes for Orient Express. I’ll refrain from actually discussing the ending even though I’m pretty sure most learned people know it, though for modern (or just dumber) audiences that never read the novel, I’m interested in seeing what the reaction will be to the somewhat unique nature of the mystery’s solution.
Oh, one more beef about the credits. They listed ten people but couldn’t find room for Olivia Colman?! Nonsense. One blog post-in-the-making is simply a listing of my favourite actors, and I recently realized that Colman is absolutely deserving of a spot on the list. Comedy, drama, she can do it all. It’s awesome that this woman who began her career as “token woman in Mitchell & Webb sketches” has risen to such prominence. Give her her due, Branagh! (Or whoever made the trailer…again, maybe I’m quick to judge him.) While we’re at it, find credit space for Lucy Boynton, who is also in this movie and came off as a capital-S Star in Sing Street.