This piece was further developed and submitted as part of my portfolio for a university project.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley
Run Time: 114 mins
Murder on the Orient Express is yet another adaptation of Agatha Christie’s crime novel, only this one is directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. After solving a theft by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Poirot feels he has earned a well-earned holiday and one would be inclined to agree with the sheer amount of cases Christie has challenged him with in her many novels. However, this is short-lived when his presence is required in London so instead of an exotic holiday, he gets to travel in luxury aboard the lavish Orient Express. However, somebody is murdered on the journey and the train derails after an avalanche, effectively forcing Poirot to put his plans of a holiday on hold again. Branagh faces some strong competition from other adaptations and performances of the character – my personal favourite would be David Suchet in the television series, who is pretty much note-perfect.
Luckily, Branagh more than ably steps up to the task and his iteration of Poirot is outlandish and theatrical but with grace and respect for the character as well. In addition, he has also crafted the most fabulous yet outrageous moustache for Poirot! However, Branagh puts his character so front and centre that he neglects to develop the rest of the cast. Branagh has perhaps one of the most star-studded casts of the year with actors such as Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer and Penelope Cruz, but pretty much all of them just chew the scenery because they are given virtually nothing to work with. All of the suspects feature in introductory moments in the film as Poirot learns who he is travelling with and in an interrogation scene once the murder occurs. It’s a real shame and it makes the film quite oddly uninvolving and cold at times as there is nothing to latch on to. Branagh certainly has the ability, with his 2007 thriller remake, Sleuth, being a very gripping experience but this is weirdly not the case here.
Musically, Patrick Doyle’s score is a disaster. Doyle has composed pretty much all of Branagh’s directorial efforts and they’re generally a great match but what Doyle has come up with here aggressively does not fit with the film.
The other big issue I have with the film is its ending which I really didn’t like and felt cheated by it. It also then begins to reveal, in my opinion, plot holes in the entire concept of the narrative, practically undoing the film. I won’t be discussing spoilers but this is probably the biggest factor as to why my ultimate reaction is more negative than positive.
On the plus side, as well as Branagh’s performance, the film looks great. The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is excellent and a lot of shots almost feel as if they are an unnamed passenger, watching on the events unfolding. There are also some breathtaking, sweeping shots of the train and surrounding landscapes. The film certainly stylistically and visually looks the part.
I’m afraid I’m rather reticient to be overall positive on Murder on the Orient Express as is style over substance and its narrative and development of characters is very unsatisfying. Although perhaps a crude comparison, say what you will about The Snowman but at least that had the guts to be nasty at times and as silly as it was, I was more interested in it. The film is not a complete failure though – to give credit where it’s due, Branagh at least has the right building blocks should a sequel be made, which the film sets up in its final scene. I’d happily watch his iteration of the character solve a more satisfying mystery, coupled with the fact that the film is visually pleasing. Murder on the Orient Express is ultimately not the slamdunk on paper it should have been and its wasted journey should never have really left the station.