There has to be a good reason for embarking on a new version of the Agatha Christie mystery other than Kenneth Branagh wanting to play master detective Hercule Poirot and also direct. Sidney Lumet directed a stylish, star-packed version on 1974, and that stands eloquently as a colorful, entertaining accomplishment.
There is always the challenge of wanting to take another crack at adapting a Christie mystery. But the new version just released doesn’t hold a candle to the Lumet work as I recall it all these years later. Branagh is not in the late Lumet’s directorial league. He fares well enough as Poirot, although the assembly of current star talent pales in comparison to those Lumet recruited.
Numbered among the current crop in addition to Branagh are: Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Johnny Depp, Tom Bateman, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe and Josh Gad.
Call me old-fashioned, but take a look at some included in the Lumet roster: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Michael York, Martin Balsam, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel and Rachel Roberts. There is no way today’s cast can beat that mass of star power.
Apart from the comparison, the new version, while impressively photographed to capture the snowy terrain when the renowned Orient Express, circa 1934, is stalled after an avalanche, has a sort of blah feeling. The mystery needs to sparkle with pointed characterizations and sharp dialogue, which the film fails to deliver. Also, one may not care about the crime that occurs on the train being solved. In short, the current version doesn’t make a case for the need of a remake.
A personal note: I once rode the Orient Express from Belgrade to Paris, and while the dining experience was enjoyable, the train was but a shadow of what it was reputed to be in its heyday. The new film does create the luxurious atmosphere once associated with the train’s elegance. Lumet captured all of that, and so does Branagh. A 20th Century Fox release. Reviewed November 10, 2017.