Whodunit? Who took the life of a famous murder mystery and left it dead on the screen? I accuse…director and star Kenneth Branagh. Though he doesn’t seem at all murderous when we first meet him as Agatha Christie’s Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, fussing over the relative size of his eggs in a Jerusalem hotel while tensions rise between the Muslims, Jews and Christians outside. (It seems a precious artifact has been stolen, and a priest, a rabbi, and an imam all stand accused – it’s like a joke, ha ha!) Such is his love of balance that when he accidentally steps in a camel pie, he intentionally soils his other shoe as well. But alas, that love does not carry over into Branagh’s presentation of Poirot, which is alternately breezy and dramatic, or his direction, which lurches along like a train trying and failing to build up steam. And there is a train, of course, a luxurious affair making its way through magnificent terrain on its collision course with...murder. That’s when things grind to a halt: Poirot sets about questioning his fantastic array of suspects — dancer, dowager, car dealer, crook, doctor, detective, and so on — with a few flashbacks and action sequences thrown in to keep the audience from staring at the scenery. It doesn’t work (but at least it’s a really beautiful train). Everything builds toward the big reveal, which itself begets a profound revelation for our hero, the sort that might have meant something if we’d been made to care. (2017) — Matthew Lickona
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