Detective Battle: Orient Express vs Crooked House

Making a screening is always a test for film director`s responsibility in finding a perfect balance between the original context and his own vision. Earlier we talked over the military and biopic trend in 2017 filmmaking, but this year one should not take the good old detective trend off the table as well. To secure the fair play let`s compare two screenings of Agatha Christie`s novels – famous and numerously adapted Murder On The Orient Express and British-scented Crooked House.

Frankly speaking, I can`t assume what went wrong with Kenneth Branagh`s Orient Express. As a critic I watch not just the film itself, I follow the movement of camera and never leave aside the audience`s reaction. So I feel sorry to admit that the film that seemed so promising left such a blurred impression even though the cast was perfect and the design and aesthetics made with sharp sense of style.

It`s hard to imagine that the detective story of righteous revenge, meant to be dynamic, full of tensity and expectant mystery may turn to sluggish tear jerking narration with theatrical exaggerations of local opera house. But that is exactly what happened to Orient Express almost at the very beginning. Paradoxically I can`t say a single word of disappointment about actors and the job they`ve done – the cast uniting Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley led by Kenneth Branagh himself simply can`t spoil the film. However despite of skills and great potential they appeared to look like half-acting wooden models – why? The only reason I can search out is that Kenneth Branagh as the director and his writers are too far gone from the original Agatha Christie`s idea.

 Crooked House is a different story. Guided by the novel, it is made with less room for director`s fantasy but fairly in line with the atmosphere of the good old crime fiction. A murder, an old British mansion, a family locked in a cave of contradictions, hatred and seven deadly sins like in a prison cell. Everything is seemingly quite predictable (especially for those who remember the novel well), but Gilles Paquet-Brenner put it in an elegant and intriguing way, avoiding the traps of too many flashbacks or bursting into lyrics.

And his cast comparing to Orient Express is never bleak or faded – Christina Hendricks, Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson and Max Irons who has proved himself as an actor with sense of style – all of them reflect the mystery of individuality and contribute to the plot unveiling. And nothing seems wrong or distorted: deed, dynamism, investigation, assembling puzzle of the crime. Quite a showpiece of a classic detective story made so rarely now in compliance with a pattern approved by audience long ago.

To some extent these two movies may be incompatible since Kenneth Branagh views his detective dive as a franchise tending to screen Death on the Nile. I try not to compare franschises or series with single shots like Crooked House, it`s always different at any criteria. Anyway, we will see what lessons Kenneth Branagh will learn from further Poirot depiction.




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