A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.
Kenneth Branagh’s new adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic,Murder on the Orient Express has nearly everything going for it. The crackling mystery is here. We get Cameron-esque production values sporting ravishing, period detail. There is a star-studded cast that dog piled onto the project. Yet it is a very good film that could have been great.
Opening in Jeruselum, Hercule Poirot (Branagh) intuitively solves a case at the Wailing Wall, immediately demonstrating his panache for brain teasers. He is soon called back to London to solve another urgent case and heads to Istanbul to board the Orient Express for passage to his destination.
“You can tell that this was a passion project for Branagh. The love for the material oozes from the screen…”
Packed on to the opulent vessel, we meet the perfectly cast ensemble that surrounds Branagh’s cartoonish Poirot. Judi Dench simply owns the screen as Princess Dragomiroff, doting over her pooches and barking at her servant, Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman). Michelle Pfeiffer is another standout as the vivacious, Caroline Hubbard, whose nervous chatter betrays her craving for male attention. Then there is, of course, the thankless role of Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) played with a pleasant reserve.
The train pulls away from the station and we are whisked away on a breathless travelogue through the countryside, up into the perilous mountains as a storm approaches. This is when the film achieves its aim. For a time we can forget our troubles and be off to parts unknown with stunning vistas, beautiful strangers, and the promise of adventure.
The murder is discovered after the train is hit by an avalanche and temporarily derailed. Poirot’s expertise is enlisted to determine who, of this small group of passengers, has committed murder.
You can tell that this was a passion project for Branagh. The love for the material oozes from the screen. The film was shot on 65mm, in the most traditional of ways, with the best cast possible. Yet with all of this steam, the locomotive never reaches the heavenly heights of greatness that it could have. There are a few slow bits in the script that could have been trimmed, but that isn’t the issue. The issue is Branagh.
“…only a few over indulgences in melodrama here and there.”
Branagh’s portrayal of Poirot is coming from a place of unquestionable reverence for the material and a love of the character. Unfortunately this enthusiasm pushes what could have been a fascinating, even endearingly comical performance, into complete overdrive. His performance is caricature, whereas everyone else is character. Behind the camera Branagh is far more effective, capturing the sweep and pageantry of international mystery and intrigue with only a few over indulgences in melodrama here and there.
Those caveats aside, this is classic Agatha Christie and you would do well to let go and give in to the endless parade of suspects, motives, plot twists, and revelations. Go grab your popcorn, your Milk Duds, and sink into your seat to escape to the far flung parts of the world and another time that we rarely get to see anymore.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017) Directed by: Kenneth Branagh Written by: Michael Green, Staring: Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, Marwan Kenzari, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi
Murder on the Orient Express is worth Matinee (***)
* Norm’s Rating System: Full Price (****), Matinee (***), VOD (**), Don’t Bother (*)