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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Murder on the Orient Express, rated PG-13
***

Murder on the Orient Express is an entertaining film with an all-star cast that will challenge viewers with moral issues around justice and vengeance. The film is directed by five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh, and is a remake of the 1974 film version of Agatha Christie’s 1934 mystery novel. The 1974 film received six Oscar nominations, and Ingrid Bergman won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The screenplay is by Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049, Logan) and the film features an all-star cast (Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Jr., Tom Bateman, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Olivia Coleman, Willem Defoe, and Judi Dench).  Dench and Cruz are Oscar winners, while Branagh, DeFoe, Preiffer and Depp are Oscar nominees.
Branagh also stars in the film as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Poirot, who sports a large and distinctive mustache and has his own quirks around balance played for humor, is perhaps the most well-known detective in the world (well, at least according to him). The film is set in 1934. After an opening which is unconnected with the rest of the story, but serves to introduce us to Poirot’s detective skills and his quirky behavior, he realizes that he desperately needs a vacation. Unfortunately, he is needed in London for a case. Bouc (Tom Bateman), a friend and director of the famous Orient Express, books him on the luxury passenger train for what he promises will be three days of relaxation and time away from crime on a trip from Istanbul to Calais.
Early in the trip, the shady art and antiques dealer Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) approaches Poirot and asks that Poirot serve as his bodyguard since Ratchett has been receiving threatening letters he assumes are from Italians to whom he sold fake oriental rugs. Poirot refuses, indicating that he detects, not protects, criminals. That night, an avalanche stops the train atop a dangerous trestle, leaving everyone stranded until they can be rescued.
The next morning Poirot finds out that one of the passengers has been murdered in their bed, having been brutally stabbed a dozen times. Poirot is asked by Bouc to investigate the case. He reluctantly agrees, and asks Bouc to be his assistant. After confirming that none of the passengers have left the train, Poirot considers all of them as well as the conductor, to be suspects in the murder.
As Poirot investigates the murder he finds that none of the characters are really as they seem, as they regularly lie to him. A kidnapping and murder, based on the actual Lindbergh baby case, plays a role in the film. Flashbacks are used extensively to tell the story.
The film’s music score is by two-time Oscar nominee Patrick Doyle, and the cinematography, featuring some beautiful outdoor scenes is by Haris Zambarloukos, who worked with Branagh on Cinderella.  I enjoyed the unique camera work, including several uses of the camera looking down on the actors or through beveled glass, and the costumes and set designs depicting the 1930’s.
Content concerns include the bloody body of the victim, racial slurs and the abuse of God’s name a few times. There is not any adult language to speak of, nor any sexual content, both of which were refreshing.
Themes in the film are racism, vengeance, justice, deception and conscience. The film includes some Christian content and references (Penelope Cruz plays a Spanish missionary, there is talk of sin and judgement, etc.)
Having not seen the 1974 edition (though I plan to), I can’t compare this version to the Oscar winning film. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and thought that Branagh was excellent as detective Hercule Poirot.

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My Review of Dunkirk

Dunkirk, rated PG-13
****

Christopher Nolan’s tense and inspirational World War II film Dunkirk is my top movie of 2017 thus far.
This film, with an estimated budget of $150 million and clocking in at just 106 minutes, is written and directed by acclaimed three-time Oscar nominee Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar, Memento (which I re-watched this past week), The Dark Knight Batman trilogy, The Prestige). This is the tenth feature film he has directed, and his second shortest.
This time Nolan takes us to the beaches of Dunkirk, a small coastal town in France in May and June, 1940, for a decisive moment in World War II. The coast of England was nearly visible from Dunkirk, just 26 miles across the English Channel. More than 300,000 Allied troops (British, French and Belgium) were trapped on the beach by the Germans. The harbor was so shallow, that a water rescue with large British ships wasn’t possible. Nolan puts the viewer in the center of the battle from a British point of view.

This is a very “visual” film, as Nolan uses a minimum of dialogue. That’s probably not a bad thing, as the dialogue and accents are difficult to understand. Credit goes here to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who worked with Nolan on Interstellar. It appears that very little of the film was computer enhanced. We didn’t see the film in IMAX, but this is a film that you would probably want to see in IMAX, if possible.
The action takes center stage over character development. Nolan tells the story of what Winston Churchill called Operation Dynamo – an all-hands call to civilian sailors, asking that they steer any vessel they can across the English Channel to rescue as many of the stranded soldiers as possible – through three interlocking stories, timelines and perspectives – land, sea and air, complete with flashbacks and revisits. He introduces each story with title cards. “The Mole” (land) takes place over a week. The “mole” is actually an 8-foot-wide, half-mile-long breakwater wall, extended off the beaches of Dunkirk, France, that served as a makeshift dock for British leaders trying to evacuate the troops. Five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh, portrays Commander Bolton, the highest ranking British naval officer on the beach. He is worried about getting his men home. We see Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) grab the stretcher of a wounded man, pretending to be medics in the hope of getting on a ship and saving themselves. They encounter Alex (Harry Styles from the band One Direction in his acting debut).  “The Sea” takes place in a single day and features Oscar winner (Bridge of Spies) Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, a civilian entering into the rescue effort with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his best friend George (Barry Keoghan). The third story, “The Air”, takes place in a single hour. Oscar nominee (The Revenant) Tom Hardy portrays Farrier and Jack Lowden portrays Collins. They are Royal Air Force Spitfire pilots engaged in a tense battle with German planes.
Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack (in his sixth collaboration with Nolan), plays an important role in the tense film, mixing music and sound effects (ticking clock sound using Nolan’s pocket watch). The film is intense from beginning to end. It is rated PG-13 for intense war scenes and some adult language, including the abuse of Jesus’ name.
Themes in this inspirational film include sacrifice, heroism, courage and fear.
A final note. Despite this being an excellent film, it’s a disappointment that the crucial National Day of Prayer for Dunkirk was completely left out of the film. Read about it here.