Murder on the Orient Express, 2017.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom, Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman, Derek Jacobi, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Tom Bateman, Lucy Boynton, and Marwan Kenzari.
What starts out as a lavish train ride through Europe quickly unfolds into one of the most stylish, suspenseful and thrilling mysteries ever told. From the novel by best-selling author Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells the tale of thirteen strangers stranded on a train, where everyone’s a suspect. One man must race against time to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.
Murder mysteries are funny things. They have to be gripping enough to get you invested in the crime and the outcome of the case while telling a logical and perhaps emotional story. Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is indeed gripping and intriguing, but still doesn’t quite get you invested in the characters, even with the star-studded cast Branagh assembled.
As Detective Hercule Poirot attempts to go on a long overdue vacation, he is pulled into a mysterious murder committed aboard the train he’s riding on with a dozen other passengers. The story is a true ‘who dunnit?’, with each passenger a potential murderer and the truth getting more complex the closer Poirot gets to the murderer.
Those unfamiliar with Christie’s novel will probably enjoy following the clues and guessing who the murderer is. Though the case is complex with so many possible suspects, it is fairly simple to follow and Branagh does a good job of making it accessible to all audiences. However, the film gets a bit repetitious as it goes on. Each interview with the train’s passengers plays very similar to the last: Poirot talks with them about why they’re on the train, if they knew the victim, picks up on a lie, deduces the truth. The only thing that really differentiates each talk is the setting in some other part of the train or on the snowy mountainside. Aside from a couple of the interrogations, there’s nothing new each adds to really deepen the mystery and advance the story either.
Where the interrogations do work is revealing a bit more about the suspects and giving the cast a chance to shine on their own opposite Branagh. This does work in the cast’s favour since its such a huge ensemble piece, and some of the revelations about the suspects are intriguing, but overall these scenes are a bit too much of the same. Outside of a couple suspects, there’s little emotional weight to get invested in them until the very end.
Branagh, however, does know how to utilize his cast well. Each actor plays their part well with Branagh giving a great performance as Poirot. He’s charismatic, funny and easily gets the audience on his side. The supporting cast are given equal focus, though the stand outs among them are Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad and Michelle Pfeiffer. They get some of the film’s more meatier scenes and pull you into their characters. Ridley and Pfeiffer in particular have some nice chemistry with Branagh, playing off Poirot’s intelligence and makes you question their seemingly innocent nature.
Murder on the Orient Express looks gorgeous too. Branagh’s eye for direction shows off in the film with some stunning visuals and cinematography. There are several one-shot takes used here, following Poirot through the train station or train itself. He also creates some nice settings, such as the mountainside side chat he has with Ridley. Though the interrogations themselves are rather repetitive, Branagh made a smart choice by changing the setting to show off the set or play with the film’s visuals. When there is a bit of action, however, it’s a bit tough to follow because there’s a lot of close-ups and cuts, making it hard to tell who punched who or how a character ended up on the floor. The pacing of the film itself is fine. There are times when the film slows down due to the next interrogation, but it moves along at a nice pace for the most part which is a good thing for a film just under two hours.
Overall, Murder on the Orient Express is a fine film. The cast helps elevate it and the mystery is engrossing, though the repetitious nature of some of the scenes hinder the film’s momentum without adding any more substance to it. Branagh’s acting and direction are the highlight of the film and the film has some great visuals. The film’s positive elements aren’t quite enough to outweigh the negatives, but despite those few flaws, audiences will probably enjoy the this interpretation of Christie’s classic mystery.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★