The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Stephanie Merry’s review of “Murder on the Orient Express,” click here.
I saw “Murder on the Orient Express” with a friend I’ve known for 25 years. Over the years, we have seen countless movies together; honestly, I’m pretty sure we’ve seen “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” upward of a dozen times (we had a lot of sleepovers, OK?). As the lights came down for my second movie of the day and my fourth in three days, my friend leaned over and asked, “Do you still enjoy movies?”
I’m not sure I’ve heard that question before. I’ve gotten “What should I see this weekend?” and “Is [insert movie] any good?” and “What’s your favorite movie?” plenty of times. But do I still enjoy them? That took me by surprise. What surprised me more was how fast I answered, “Oh, yeah,” and how much I meant it. Even a movie like “Murder on the Orient Express.”
Look, “Murder” is not terrible. At times, it is even good. It’s based on the Agatha Christie novel, and the plot is simple: A bunch of attractive, well-dressed people are on a fancy train. One of them is murdered. Whodunit? Kenneth Branagh stars as a mustache named Hercule Poirot; aside from mustaching, Poirot also solves crimes.
As the director, Branagh has his work cut out for him, as “solving crimes” usually involves talking to people and thinking, both of which are hard to portray in an interesting manner over nearly two hours. He tries his best and shows himself again to be a capable director, with a deft touch for comedy and a clunky one for drama. Of course, Branagh’s signature style is most evident when he also stars (most notably in “Henry V,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Hamlet”); if there’s one thing Branagh likes to shoot, it’s Branagh. Here he is the center of not only the movie, but quite possibly every frame in which he appears; he is effortless elegance and snappy wit and intelligence-fired blue eyes. (And he really does have nice blue eyes.)
Branagh also has an adroit fondness for the showy; one wonderful long take travels down the outside of the train, peering in through the windows as Poirot and his roustabout friend walk from car to car, passing each of the 683 cast members. That cast size is a problem (though that’s Christie’s fault, not Branagh’s). The film’s a showcase for some of the most talented actors working today — it’s probably one of the few movies where you think, “Oh, Willem Dafoe is in this too?” — but unfortunately, they don’t get much to do except dress impeccably, claim they didn’t do it and look just suspicious enough to make us think that they did.
But you know what? I still had a good time (and now I have plans to watch Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version). I wasn’t bored; the camp that imbued the film was all in good fun. It was pretty to look at and I laughed more than I expected.
So, yeah, I still enjoy movies. The smell of the popcorn, the dimming of the lights and that infernal Coke commercial still signal to me the possibility of something really special. Even when, as in the case of “Murder on the Orient Express,” the movie is just fair, I can still have a good time.