Here’s another case where my ignorance of past adaptations (1974 movie for one), and the original source material likely results in rosier remarks than might have been the case- I have no idea how honest it is to that source material, for one thing, or whether it takes diabolical liberties. Its a bit like someone who has never read a Robert E Howard story watching any of the Conan movies and judging them just as movies, ignorant of the fact that each of them ruinously ill-serve the original Howard stories and characters. Indeed, I’m not one for this whole murder-mystery genre at all, and have only recently in the last year or so watched any adaptations of Agatha Christie’s stories. So I’m hardly qualified then. Bye.
Still here? Well then. One thing is for certain- this film is utterly gorgeous to look at. I saw it via streaming in HD on Amazon Video on a rental, but that is hardly doing the term ‘HD’ justice really. I cannot imagine (well I can, and it has me salivating) what this film looks like on Blu-ray or 4K UHD. The colour palette, lighting and production design are all exquisite. Of course it could also be argued that it is all overly fanciful and possibly even distracting, but I found the look of the film utterly charming and impressive, and yes quite cinematic. This is, at all times, clearly a ‘MOVIE’ and not at all the kind of thing you’d see from a Netflix Original- well, that seems to be the clear intent. There is also the very modern trend of the film clearly setting itself up as the start of a possible franchise, with a not at all subtle lead-in to a sequel based on Death on the Nile.
Equally impressive is the cast- a list of A-listers indeed and a throwback to the ‘Old Hollywood’ habit of throwing great casts at prestige films or novelty projects like Irwin Allen disaster movies. Kenneth Brannagh as the sleuth Poirot, of course, but also a list of suspects as esteemed as Judi Dench, Olivia Coleman, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Derek Jacobi, and Johnny Depp (the wrap party must have been legendary) as well as a supporting cast no less impressive. There is something almost comforting about seeing so many recognisable faces hamming it up in this old-fashioned 1930s murder mystery.
And ‘hamming it up’ does seem to be the order of the day- it would be fair to suggest that only Brannagh himself really gets into it and chews up the scenery sufficiently. The rest of the cast rest on their laurels, mostly, as if just bringing their familiar faces on-set and saying their lines is going to be enough. Perhaps there is something to be said that the script hardly demands anymore of any of them, and as far as the huge talents at hand, most get wasted.
As a pleasant matinee diversion this film ticks all the boxes, and I can imagine, with its snowy vistas and starry cast, this film is destined to become a mainstay of Christmas schedules in years to come. Perhaps I should criticize it for lack of ambition and failing to really stretch either itself or any of its genre boundaries- the denouement may be faithful to the book, for instance, but I did feel it rather jumped the shark and threatened to spoil the whole experience. But would that be unfair complaining about the film when it should be the original author taken to task? Or does the film have a different solution to the mystery than the book did?
So yes, maybe I’m not at all qualified to measure the worth of this film. I will just say that I quite enjoyed it, distracted throughout, admittedly, by how lovely it looked and by each famous face that appeared onscreen. Certainly a guilty pleasure then.