Zoolander 2

Murder on the Orient Express

I’ve always loved a good mystery. When I was a kid I used to read Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew and the like. I marveled at the mental dexterity and nearly prescient reasoning those young sleuths displayed. Moreover, there’s just something about a good mystery that feels comforting, yet thrilling. Couple my affinity for mystery with an enjoyment of ensemble films, and there was no way I’d miss Murder on the Orient Express. It was a treat to watch our charming protagonist, the affably eccentric Hercule Poirot in action, extracting information from suspects both willing and unwilling.

Although some viewers may be familiar with Poirot (Kenneth Branagh, Dunkirk), the film begins with an effective introduction to the genteel gumshoe, as he solves a theft by uncovering the smallest, most inconspicuous clue. Watching Poirot is like a master class in crime solving. His reputation precedes him, and those being interrogated often police themselves, dispensing with lies without bothering to try to stump the ever-observant Poirot. When our vaunted detective finds himself aboard the Orient Express, the stage is set. Poirot is headed to London to consult on a homicide, but not before meeting a colorful cast of characters aboard the train, one of whom will become a victim themselves.

Most notable among the passengers are Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), a seedy underworld type running from a mysterious foe, along with Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.) and his companion Mary (Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), two acquaintances who are curiously pretending to be strangers, and Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer, Mother!) a saucy older woman looking for a good time. Rounding out the bunch are an assortment of other passengers, including a wealthy grand dame (Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul), a religious domestic worker (Penelope Cruz, Zoolander 2), and Mr. Ratchett’s assistant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad, Beauty and the Beast).

Quite simply, the crux of the movie is the murder of one of the dozen or so passengers. The ambience of the confined space and the proximity of the guests to one another make for a taut and suspenseful journey. I found myself trying to think as Poirot, to observe as he did. Nothing was what it appeared to be, and the storyline kept me in suspense without being intellectually dishonest. While the pacing and emphasis on dialogue won’t appeal to everyone, I never lost interest thanks in large part to Kenneth Branagh’s jovial turn. He seemed to relish the role, and it was fun to watch him be the smartest person in the room. Or in this case, on the train.

Murder on the Orient Express will appeal more to grandmothers than millennials, due to its slow pace and the genteel nature of its protagonist. It wasn’t an action-packed nonstop thrill ride; it was a quiet, enjoyable film for those who enjoy a good mystery. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if the trailer piqued your curiosity at all, I think you’ll be pleased.

Grade: B+

The Girl on the Train

Before I see a film, there’s an occasional bit of trepidation. There’s always the risk that the results will not live up to the expectation, especially if the studio includes the best moments in the trailer. Good editing and well-placed scenes can leave you duped. Such was the case with The Girl on the Train, a film that teased mystery and suspense, but failed to deliver on both. I was expecting something in the vein of Gone Girl but was left with something much more forgettable.

Emily Blunt (Sicario) stars as Rachel, a troubled divorcee who hasn’t gotten over her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux, Zoolander 2), despite the fact that he’s moved on by starting a family with his former mistress. Rachel is battling demons, struggling with addiction, living day to day with the loneliness and betrayal of her failed marriage. She commutes to Manhattan on the train every day, often gazing out at the sprawling homes dotting the train’s path. One home in particular draws her attention, a charming white abode occupied by an enchanting young couple. The woman, a carefree blonde, is everything Rachel wishes she were: vibrant, hopeful, in love. Her husband appears devoted and loving. Rachel crafts a narrative for the couple in her mind, spinning fanciful tales from weeks of brief observations.

When the young woman Rachel’s been observing goes missing, she comes even more unhinged. Claiming to have witnessed her abduction, she tells the authorities – who are reluctant to believe her, given her fragile emotional state. Things get even more complicated when it’s revealed that the missing woman was also Tom’s nanny. The characters are intertwined in a way that isn’t abundantly clear – and here’s where I hoped the film could’ve been more suspenseful. For a substantial portion of the film we watch Rachel stumble through her pathetic life in a lonely haze, but instead of empathizing with the character, I was mostly apathetic.

Furthermore, the story felt disjointed, as writer Erin Cressida Wilson (Men, Women & Children) used flashbacks, frequently shifting back and forth from different perspectives and points in the recent past. Perhaps this device was employed in the book from which the film was adapted, and maybe it was more effective in that medium, but it faltered here. The pacing was slow and uneven, and I didn’t feel emotionally connected to the characters. The film didn’t become worthwhile until its final act, which was overwhelmingly predictable. I feel catfished by this movie. Take it from me and save your money. Grade: D+