Murder on the Orient Express
Review by Paul Preston
Kenneth Branagh loves movies. It’s pretty awesome to see, in film after film he directs, how much this actor, raised as one of the stage’s brightest talents, just LOVES MOVIES. Whether the film goes to great heights or off the rails, Branagh never fails to heap a variety of big directorial choices onto his projects and we’re all the better for it as viewers.
His latest effort is Murder on the Orient Express, a second go-round for Agatha Christie’s classic crime novel featuring stalwart detective Hercule Poirot. Branagh plays Poirot as well and he’s instantly fascinating, not just because of the ferret-like mustache he’s sporting, but also because of his extraordinarily mannered persona coupled with a streak of obsessive compulsive disorder. The film opens with Poirot at the reveal-the-killer moment of a case where he is showcasing his excellent sleuthery and impressing me with his take on right and wrong and the character of people. The case exhausts him and he seeks respite on a train trip where there will be no rest for Poirot because of…MURDER!
The rest of the ensemble is a casting director’s Yahtzee! – Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Josh Gad and more. After a train traveler is murdered, Poirot opens up the murder mystery playbook and begins gathering clues and interviewing witnesses. The relationships of the train guests unfold and the past of each player in this mystery is crucial, so as they relay it, you’ll need to pay attention as much as Poirot. No running to the bathroom or playing on your phone. Honestly, there are so many reasons for you to not be on your phone, I better not catch you or we’ll be solving Murder at the Multiplex.
Full disclosure, I never saw the original 1974 Murder on the Orient Express. It won an Oscar and was nominated for many so that means two things:
– First, BAD Movie Guy
– And I can only guess this is strong material for Branagh to think he can improve. But hey, he’s a stage guy, he’s probably just thinking like one. Countless productions of Hamlet have been performed, yet that would not deter The Royal Shakespeare Company from doing it again. Branagh’s just brought that mindset to film. He’s already remade Henry V, the aforementioned Hamlet and the 1960s Marvel Comics Presents Thor television show, so why not this?
With all that said, Branagh’s take on this classic Christie tale is well put-together. He doesn’t give into too many overly-cinematic indulgences like putting Brian Blessed’s giant glowing head in the middle of the forest as Hamlet’s father, or buttering up his abs in every shot possible for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But he brings the lush, the foreign locale and a bit of epic to what is otherwise a small tale of a dozen people. He also pays great attention to the overall ugliness of this crime and the sadness and loneliness that follows Poirot.
The twists and turns are ample as Poirot digs deeper and the cast is up for the job of stakes-raising. Admittedly, there are just too many stars to make you feel like they all had their chance to shine brightly, but for having to share the screen, they all have their moments, mostly Gad, Depp and Pfeiffer, who deserves more roles of substance as her career hits phase three.
I’m sure I could go on about how this film is different from the source material, but, as I said, I’m not so familiar with it. So, if you were looking for the review of this that doesn’t come with baggage, I can safely say there’s much to enjoy.
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Release Date: November 10, 2017
Run Time: 114 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox