Tag Archives: Michelle Pfeiffer

Interview: Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Orient Express’ song is one you’ll never forget

There’s no question that acclaimed actor-director Kenneth Branagh’s latest cinematic opus — the big-screen adaptation of famed author Agatha Christie’s classic novel “Murder on the Orient Express” — is rolling strong in theaters domestically and overseas, having already amassed an impressive global tally of $275 million with no signs of slowing down.

As movie fans have found out, Branagh becomes Christies’ time-honored Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who boards the Orient Express simply as a mode of transport to get back home to London but finds himself investigating a mysterious murder where everyone on the train is suspect.

With a huge presence in front of and behind the camera, Branagh’s fingerprints are all over “Murder on the Orient Express,” including the area of songwriting, a place he’s only ventured to once before.

The first time around, Branagh and his collaborator of nearly 30 years, film composer Patrick Doyle, (along with music producer Tommy Danvers) wrote “Strong,” the end-title song for the 2015 blockbuster “Cinderella.” Now, with “Murder on the Orient Express,” Branagh has put his pen to paper once again for the lyrics to “Never Forget,” the haunting end credits song for which Doyle wrote the music.

In a phone conversation with the actor-filmmaker this week, Branagh discussed “Never Forget,” an ethereal ballad sung by his co-star Michelle Pfeiffer. The song serves as an elegy for the tragic loss of a character at the heart of the film’s narrative.

Michelle Pfeiffer in 'Murder on the Orient Express

“They say, ‘Music is a vehicle for transcendence so that one can commune with God.’ That saying relates to music and lyrics (like ours), which talk about this incredible loss at the center of the film. To console is part of what people do to ease that suffering,” Branagh said. “And if the characters in this story are going to leave that train and have some future journey in their lives, some of the healing that Poirot talks about in the film is going to have to start happening.”

Branagh said “Never Forget” in a way grew from personal experiences growing up in Ireland — feelings that were awakened by a theme Doyle incorporated into the film’s score.

“It reminded me of moments in my youth when I used to hear my granny get upset,” Branagh recalled. “She would sing the Irish ayre ‘Danny Boy’ — she had a brother, Danny, who she had lost — and it would make her cry every time she sang it. But it was so necessary for her to sing it because it was a way of easing that pain. It was cathartic and very therapeutic. ”

Ultimately, to capture those feelings for “Never Forget,” Branagh knew Pfeiffer — who previously demonstrated her singing talent in “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and “Hairspray” — could bring to the song a haunting air of heartbreak and hope rooted in the experiences of her character, Caroline Hubbard.

“We wanted some emotional closure and we knew that Michelle Pfeiffer’s beautiful performance in the film could translate into music — but not with the idea of trying to produce some dazzling vocal gymnastics — but to experience this basic tension and beauty and melancholy in the song between the love for the innocent that is lost, and the desire to let them know that they will never be forgotten,” Branagh said. “It’s very simple, but it can be very profound. … It provides an emotional character closure that goes to the place we haven’t been in this movie. … It’s a direct appeal to and from the human heart.”

While “Never Forget” certainly merits consideration this awards season for Best Original Song, “Murder on the Orient Express” easily warrants attention in several other categories — from the picture as a whole to Branagh’s expert direction and portrayal of Poirot, to Doyle’s captivating score, the film’s stunning cinematography and its meticulous production and costume design.

In the case of costume design, one item of note is a mustache guard for Poirot, which we see him wearing as he awakens in the morning after his first night aboard the Orient Express. An apparatus designed to keep Poirot’s perfectly coiffed handlebar mustache in place, the quick shot of the mustache guard is not only good for a laugh, in a subtle way it further defines the character as a detective who strives for perfection.

“It’s one of those moments where you understood the details of a lot of people’s work, particularly that of Alexandra Byrne, our costume designer, who was responsible for that mustache guard, but who had also worked so closely with Carol Hemming, our makeup and hair designer — who worked for so long and so hard for such detail on the mustache itself,” Branagh enthused. “It boldly goes where few mustaches have gone before to fulfill Agatha Christie’s requirement that it be one of the most ‘immense’ and ‘magnificent’ mustaches in England.”

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Movie review: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is first-class ride

VIDEO: See Tim’s review of “Murder on the Orient Express” with Zachary Lashway on KARE-TV (NBC)

“Murder on the Orient Express” (PG-13)

Don’t hesitate to climb aboard “Murder on the Orient Express,” filmmaker Kenneth Branagh’s lavishly produced and expertly directed adaptation of legendary author Agatha Christie’s classic novel. Loaded with a brilliant ensemble cast, lush set pieces, inventive cinematography and gorgeous settings, “Murder on the Orient Express” is a welcome throwback to the classic whodunnit murder mysteries of yesteryear, told passionately though the Branagh’s lens.

Branagh does double duty by playing famed literary detective Hercule Poirot, one of world’s best investigators who thinks he’s in for a three-day break for on a train trip across 1930s Europe when the locomotive is waylaid on a mountainside by an avalanche. The train is occupied by people of all different backgrounds, including Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), a notorious mobster whose “occupation” as art dealer has made him a lot of enemies.

On the first night aboard the stranded train, Ratchett is violently murdered, and with no one else in the proximity of the crime scene for miles, Poirot quickly concludes that one of 13 passengers is responsible for Ratchett’s death. Through his meticulous investigation, Poirot tries to whittle down a suspect, leading to a stunning conclusion that people new to the story simply won’t see coming.

While many people are fond of Christie’s original novel or the 1974 adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Albert Finney as Poirot, perhaps the film fans who will enjoy “Murder on the Express” the most are the people who come into the film cold. Yes, there are slight character changes in the film, but there is virtually no wiggle room for the film’s meticulously-constructed narrative.

That’s a big plus for newbies, yet leaves potential room for disappointment for fans who already know how the story ends . Luckily, the film’s sprawling, fascinating narrative, stunning vistas and first-class performances by the likes of Branagh, Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Olivia Colman, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad and Willem Dafoe make the ride well-worthwhile.

Lammometer: 8 (out of 10)

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