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‘Murder on the Orient Express’ film review: A high-speed version of Agatha Christie’s famous novel

Kenneth Branagh turns out an enjoyable performance as Hercule Poirot, even though his movie lacks a sure sense of suspense and dread.

Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express moves decisively away from its literary source as well as Sidney Lumet’s acclaimed film adaptation. Agatha Christie’s immensely popular Murder on the Orient Express is an audaciously plotted murder mystery that takes place on board the train. A venal businessman named Ratchett has been stabbed to death in his sleep, and everybody on the coach is suspect, from his secretary and valet to the British colonel and his lover. Unfortunately for the murderer, Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective ever born, is also a passenger.

Christie’s intricate plotting and pithily observed ensemble of characters were faithfully transported onto the screen by Lumet in 1974. Lumet’s version replicated much of the novel’s dialogue and plot twists. Albert Finney played Poirot, the Belgian with the pointy moustache, distinctive mannerisms and the tendency to lapse into caricature in his enthusiasm to hunt down wrongdoers.

Branagh’s movie is a pared-down, speeded-up version of the novel. That is both good and bad. The director also stars as Poirot, delivering a witty and charming performance as the detective who matches Sherlock Holmes in his unerring ability to distil the truth from seemingly random events and clues. The lengthy and suspenseful interrogations that provide Poirot vital clues to the murder have been trimmed, at the cost of losing the sure sense of anticipation that Christie creates on her pages and Lumet reproduces in his movie. The characters zip by rather than linger, and many of Poirot’s deductions are presented as brilliant guesswork rather than the result of those famed grey cells working overtime to crack a seemingly unsolvable killing.

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Murder on the Orient Express (2017).

Branagh’s version is altogether more light-hearted and fleet, clocking in at a crisp 114 minutes. Much of the running time is devoted to depicting his interpretation of Poirot, whose obsession with perfection and balance is revealed in the opening sequence set in Jerusalem. As Poirot boards the Orient Express, the star-studded cast floats into view, including Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Daisy Ridley and Johnny Depp as the loathsome Ratchett. The cast has been well chosen but is severely underutilised. The brightest star in the galaxy remains Branagh, who exercises his privilege as director to the fullest.

One of the welcome updates in Michael Green’s screenplay is in the matter of race. Christie’s very British observations on the provenance of her characters have been replaced by a multiracial cast that better reflects the diversity of moviegoing audiences. Arbuthnot, for instance, isn’t an Army colonel any more but a black American doctor (Leslie Odom Jr) whose relationship with the white Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley) has greater layers than the pairing in the novel.

The biggest change is in the characterisation of Poirot, who is more suave and attractive than in previous avatars. The movie centres around Branagh’s performance rather than Poirot’s brilliance, and benefits from the veteran actor’s complete investment in his character. The moustache is more luxuriant than before; the Belgian accent is put to good use; the complete lack of self-deprecation is played with a judicious mix of humour and respect.

However, Branagh’s consummate performance fails to even out the sheer lack of suspense and the poignancy of the reason for Ratchett’s death. The new movie has been handsomely shot and produced, but the raw punch produced by Christie in her extended climax is missing.

The movie seems to be in a great rush towards the sequel that is suggested at the end – a forthcoming adaptation of Christie’s Death on the Nile. Branagh makes for a fine Poirot, and perhaps the next time, he will settle for a leisurely cruise rather than an express tour.

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Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.

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2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.