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Agatha Christie was part of a generation of mystery writers who subscribed to the "Twenty Rules of Detective Fiction", whilst constantly breaking said rules on purpose to basically cheat the reader out of what would otherwise be an obvious conclusion. This doesn't make for bad books, and she wouldn't be the widest selling author in the world if that were the case, but it is a bloody annoying thing to come across when you are encountering her stories for the first time, 80 years down the line, where a lot of her plot twists are now familiar enough to not only be unsurprising, but so obvious to audiences that they make the mistake of assuming no author as celebrated as Christie would resort to something so hackneyed.
So onto 2017's Murder on the Orient Express, which updates and intensifies her story a great deal. The train of the movie isn't merely stopped by a snow drift, but blasted off the track by an avalanche. Every ten minutes or so, Express indulges in some kind of visual flair, such as having Poirot pacing about on the roof of the train in the freezing cold so that he can ponder more dramatically for us, or the inclusion of fisticuffs and gun fights, or the gratuitous Last Supper visual references. It's the sort of thing that might annoy purists, who would rather have a constant stream of data to analyse, but to anyone else, it's a lavish, visually exciting display. Express also excels in the acting school, crammed with interpersonal drama between big name actors who aren't together in a comedy setting for once. Then there is the real start of the show; the Orient Express itself. The appeal of Poirot has always been in offering readers a vicarious experience of impossibly extravagant holiday destinations, and with that aim, Express succeeds perfectly in providing pornographic displays of luxury.
I can't say that much about the story; to those familiar with the original, its the same with a few character differences to make it more appealing to modern viewers. It also has the same problem of being ruined by fridge logic, in that whilst Poirot is celebrated as the smartest detective in the world, really this murder plot would be solved the moment any other policeman looked into the backgrounds of the suspects; Poirot's only advantage is he knew them in advance (and the audience didn't). That said, its still an arresting story, if not a completely watertight murder mystery, and I certainly was happy to spend an afternoon watching it.
I'm aware that the mixed reception is at least partially due to "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny, the well known nature of the plot twist, and modern cynicism towards reboots in general. Oh, and the Narm of Kenneth Branaugh's moustache. Fair enough, some things can't be controlled.
But I'd like to have it on record that this version is an amazing film in it's own right, and if you have somehow missed the old versions, than this movie is a great way to discover this classic story. The acting is spot-on, the set design is gorgeous, and the soundtrack is absolutely beautiful. I had a blast watching this story for the first time in the theatre, and I really think that anyone who gives it a fair shot will not be disappointed.
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