“It drew her eyes; it frightened her. A big black hook.”
That’s not from Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” the film version of the novel which opens today, directed and starred in by Kenneth Branaugh, but “And Then There Were None,” which I read in junior high and involves a couple of key characters, trapped in a small space with a bunch of accused murderers, doing something grisly with that hook. Shortly after I read “And Then There Were None,” I stayed at a ski lodge on vacation which had a spare bedroom with a big black hook hanging from the ceiling. In retrospect, it was probably just there for a plant, but it gave me the chills nonetheless. Did our host – whom I did not know very well – want me dead, too? Had I committed a crime for which I had gone unpunished?
Admittedly, I had an overactive imagination, so I can only wonder what I would have started thinking had I been in Kenneth Branaugh’s shoes (he plays the famous Belgian detective Hercules Poirot) when he boards the titular Orient Express in the film and a dead passenger (Johnny Depp) is soon discovered. The bad news: the train has more than enough suspects; the good news is that there’s a famous detective on board who can solve it, plus the train keeps breaking down in the middle of snow-covered nowhere, so at least there’s plenty of time to think before they reach their destination. (Of course, that gives the killer plenty time to strike again). And I had plenty of time to ponder things while watching the movie. Things relevant to the movie, such as whodunit, but also things like, “Is Kenneth Branaugh wearing colored contact lenses? Surely, that’s not a shade of blue found in nature.” and “Just how long did it take to put on that mustache anyway?” This is because although all the performances (from Dame Judi Dench to Josh Gad) as the other passengers are excellent, the movie seemed awfully long. A critic (sorry can’t remember who) once said of Johnny Depp’s performance in “Black Mass” that he enters every scene as if he’s won first place in a costume party, and that line ran through my head whenever Kenneth made a dramatic appearance. (Sometimes he is even filmed from above, which gave me a crick in my neck, but didn’t happen too often.)
The plot revolves around a crime that occurred prior to the journey, when the young daughter of a rich couple is kidnapped and murdered. Unsurprisingly, everyone on the train has some kind of connection to this crime – though of course, there’s plenty of misrepresenting the truth so it will take all Kenneth’s wits and wiles to extract what is really going on. And naturally, the killer might possibly want Kenneth dead, too once he starts snooping around. There is lots of tension, but also lots of scenery chewing, and not just by Kenneth, although he’s the worst offender. I expected to see “Oscar clip” pop up in a few scenes, a.k.a. “Wayne’s World.” But it does provide food for thought – you could hear a pin drop in my theater once it was done, though that may just have been people wondering what they were going to have for dinner.