How unfortunate that this very dated material and static production should take place on a fast-moving train. Other questions arise: since this is a film that could only be targeted at a senior demographic, why open it at multiplexes which are geared to younger audiences? This talky period piece is not well served with its updated cast, most of whom have little to do. Dame Judy Dench might as well have been a referential portrait rather than a live actress and Willem Dafoe doesn’t get a chance to do much of anything but display the wide spaces between his teeth in some unflattering close-ups. Kenneth Branagh is eclipsed by a mustache as thick as a dog’s tail and Michelle Pfeiffer, a very glamorous middle-aged woman, seems too whiny and contemporary for this mise-en-scene.
Compared with the many new iterations of Sherlock Holmes that have been so successful on television for the past two decades, Hercule Poirot fails in the cleverness quotient. Compared with so many series of contemporary detectives, he’s a stuffy bore. And most sadly, the saga of the Lindbergh baby pales with the murder of the Kansas Clutters, the rampages of the Manson cult or any of the Hannibal Lecter films. The ante has been upped so drastically in this genre that a cerebral writer like Agatha Christie can’t compete with flashier material on our wide and scenic screens. As I watched the final explications of this who-dunnit and why, I wished I could hand out an immediate quiz to the audience and see how many could regurgitate the denouement correctly My bet is that very few would get a passing grade but more significantly, nobody would leave the movie theater caring.
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