Movie Review: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’


Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom, Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Marwan Kenzari, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton

Plot: Legendary detective Hercule Poirot is looking forward to a relaxing journey on the luxurious Orient Express before taking on a new case. Fate would intervene when a fellow passenger is murdered. Whilst waiting for the derailed engine to be righted he investigates the ensemble of characters sharing the carriage, but nothing seems to line up.

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Review: For those familiar with this classic crime caper, either through Agatha Christie’s original story or one of the previous adaptations, the characters and reveal of the killer are kept intact. We’re not going to get into spoiler territory here, but we will say that newcomers may find this easier than expected to work out. The problem is that Murder of the Orient Express and Christie’s recurring elements were so influential that some have become commonplace. That said, it is a classic for a reason and Branagh is able to inject some solid drama into proceedings. 

In the past decade we’ve seen a trend towards socially unaware yet brilliant geniuses whose crime solving ability over-rides their blunt manner. With that in mind it’s surprising that Hercule Poirot hasn’t been wheeled out. We’ve had three versions of Sherlock Holmes and yet his closest literary rival has been kept on the bench. Branagh dons the moustache this time around and he has put full effort into the role. His entire performance is well considered and balances the dramatic and comical. It’s a pity that this character type has been in vogue lately, otherwise it would stand out much more. 

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In addition to playing Poirot we see Branagh taking up the role of director. You can expect plenty of sweeping vistas and exotic locales, but the most interesting work comes in the train itself. With some creative overhead shots and the use of reflections Branagh makes the most of the claustrophobic setting.

Backing up Branagh is a damn fine ensemble of both experienced performers and some talented newcomers. Pretty much everyone is on point here, even if they only have one or two major scenes a piece. Michelle Pfeiffer is particularly good with a role which unfolds over the course of the film. She’s been doing some great work lately.

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So…good actors, good performances and solid directing build around a classic crime story. It should be a home run, and yet there’s something a bit lacking. All the pieces fit, but the glue holding them together isn’t holding. The film attempts to up the dramatic tensions with some unnecessary sequences. The reveal is powerful enough and brilliantly acted, we don’t need people pulling out guns and screaming “DO IT!” at each other. Chases through the struts of a bridge and wrestling on the edge of a cliff don’t add anything other than running time.

They bait a sequel at the end, but whether or not Murder on the Orient Express can manage enough box office in a very, very bad year for Hollywood is yet to be seen.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN 

 

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