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.
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.
It’s hard to wow audiences with yet another remake based on one of Agatha Christie’s greatest mysteries. Hardly anyone was clamoring for another take on Murder on the Orient Express, but that doesn’t render director Kenneth Branagh’s (Thor, Cinderella) film of poor quality or a fruitless endeavor; there are a number of moviegoers unfamiliar with the story, likely of a younger age range. Not to mention, it’s a solidly crafted experience that gives many recognizable names a platform to act as a significant character playing off of one another. There’s also the fact that when a cast this noteworthy is assembled, it becomes difficult to predict who will be the victim let alone who did it.
And with so many characters and so little time (it clocks in at just under two hours), Branagh pulling double duty as the Sherlock Holmes reminiscent ridiculously intelligent and observant detective Hercule Poirot (rocking a badass twirly handlebar mustache which is surely where all the wisdom comes from) begins, albeit reluctantly, conducting interviews on each of the dozen or so individuals that had nearby access to the brutally stabbed deceased. The kicker is that the whole incident occurs while Hercule is traveling to London on the Orient Express to receive his next case, meaning the man now has to work the job during the very little downtime he does have. What else are you going to do when a blizzard and avalanche derail passage completely?
Stirring up both pros and cons, Hercule does indeed investigate the passengers one by one, finding various clues across them all, which makes the resolution that much tougher for new viewers to predict. However, this is all at the expense of drastic character development; there comes a point where Murder on the Orient Express is solely about small details and how the characters relate to one another, rather than anything of emotional value. The ending certainly ties everything all up in a way that mitigates some of the shortcomings, but all the scenery chewing in the world and last-minute moving motivational reveals can’t undo that outside of basic social commentary on class systems and race, there isn’t much substance to Murder on the Orient Express. At least not in the year 2017.
Kenneth Branagh is determined to make up for this with style and cinematic flair, utilizing a number of tracking shots (whether it be following characters as they board the train or elaborate long takes studying multiple individuals reactions within the same moment). Even his presentation of Hercule is a work of showmanship meant to awe as he acknowledges and catches on to subtle irregularities (a mispronunciation under a specific accent, going over the bloody stab wounds inflicted during a crazed state of mind, and more including the grandstanding final accusation sequence). Establishing shots depicting frozen temperatures are also deceptively beautiful to look at, although there is a bit of distracting CGI on surrounding mountains and in weather effects.
It’s also nice that the victim still gets quite a few scenes after the death by way of flashbacks further shedding light on the complicated mystery at hand. Again, this also detracts from the movie as well, as much of the dialogue is lengthy exposition designed to arouse suspicion or deliver alibis, and truthfully, it does get repetitive watching person after person going through the same procedure. With that said, I really can’t imagine those well-versed in Murder on the Orient Express absolutely loving the film; regardless of predetermined knowledge it is still a well-made picture from all of the key pillars (direction, writing, acting, cinematography), but the journey can’t be as entertaining with the outcome already in one’s mind. The characters simply aren’t that deep to warrant multiple viewings looking at the narrative from different perspectives.
Now, with zero context so I don’t accidentally give away any spoilers, I want to single out Branagh himself, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom Jr., Penelope Cruz, and Willem Dafoe as all having some terrific scenes and generally putting in great work. Yes, this remake is watchable for fans of the source material, but it also could have been a disaster with the wrong cast. Murder on the Orient Express runs its course from beginning to end, neither picking up steam nor derailing into subzero hell, making it the safest Thanksgiving Day theater option to kill two hours while that delicious turkey is cooking. It’s intriguing in the moment but will be forgotten on the ride home.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com