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'Murder on the Orient Express' only makes it as far as its star power can take it

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When Quentin Tarantino’s “ The Hateful Eight” came out in 2015, it was lauded as a grand success. Tarantino was able to craft a unique murder mystery spanning 167 minutes with only one major set piece. For all intents and purposes, it was a cinematic triumph. While “Murder on the Orient Express” seems to take note of Tarantino’s success, it fails to even come close.

A remake of the 1974 film of the same name, “Murder on the Orient Express” follows detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film) as he investigates a murder on -- you guessed it -- The Orient Express, a luxury train transporting him to his next endeavor. While the mystery unfolds, the diverse cast of characters becomes intertwined as a much more intricate plot is revealed.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is a well-acted mess. It is a whodunit that implicates everyone, confusing and frustrating the viewer right until the bitter end.

A cast including Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley,  Michelle Pfeiffer and at least a dozen other equally established actors is not to blame for the film’s failures, which can instead be attributed to the sheer size of the cast itself. While all of the actors are distinguished in their own right, the fact that there are a dozen recognizable characters competing for screen time makes it difficult for the viewer to keep track of all the evidence without literally taking notes.

The Orient Express’ set production and costume design were convincing. The ornate design of the luxury train as well as the authentic costumes were certainly impressive, however, the merits of this film stop here.

The dialogue was more frigid than the air outside of the Orient Express itself. Poirot had a penchant for attempting to lighten the mood with humor, which almost always fell flat.

Most strikingly, Caroline Hubbard (Pfeiffer) does nothing more than implicate herself the entire film. This is very uncharacteristic of Pfeiffer, an acclaimed actress with such film credits as “ Scarface” and more recently “Mother!”. While her negative performance in itself is an anomaly, it is far more likely that this is a writing or directing flaw.

As mentioned before, the film somehow managed to feel both too long and not long enough. It tries to fit far too much into its 114 minute runtime -- failing to fully flesh out many subplots along the way -- and the quality of the film was well below any sort of standard to the point where it felt like it was just dragging along.

While all characters were initially introduced boarding the Orient Express, some didn’t make another significant appearance until the last 30 minutes of the film. This created a great deal of confusion when it seemed that these characters were integral to the greater plot of the film, but had taken a back seat throughout.

The film finally concludes with the mystery explained -- in the most confusing, unfulfilling way -- and then solved. Additionally, the final scene concludes with Poirot making a very unorthodox decision regarding the case that goes against all of his tightly-held beliefs, and is completely implausible from a law enforcement standpoint.

During the film’s final moments where the murderer is revealed, the filmmakers try to shoehorn in a grandiose philosophical message about justice that is unconvincing given the quirky, relatively light-hearted nature of the rest of the film.

“Murder on the Orient Express” was clearly trying to accomplish far more than it had time for. Even with what was given, the philosophical undertones surely would have been lost to the viewer as they couldn’t put aside their disappointment for this stiff, uncreative film. “The Hateful Eight” was able to accomplish a great deal with more or less a single set piece, all-star talent and a enticing narrative. “Murder on the Orient Express” was dealt a similar hand but folded far too quickly.

Grade: D

Murder on the Orient Express was released in theaters November 10

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