If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie’s work and you’re looking for a passably fun adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, this film has got you covered. It’s got all the elements in the check list – an exotic location, period setting and appropriate costume, a fun Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot and a sprawling supporting cast. As a piece of entertainment, this is watchable, but little more than that.
We’re in the titular train along with Poirot who is on a much needed vacation, but since he’s Poirot mystery follows him everywhere he goes. The train, which is enroute to Istanbul comes to a halt after an avalanche blocks the tracks. This stoppage exposes something terrible that happened on the train – a man is found dead, and wounds show that he has been stabbed no less than a dozen times. Naturally, everyone on board is a suspect as Poirot begins investigating the case.
Poirot navigates through the mystery questioning everyone in the vicinity of the body – a governess (Daisy Ridley) who may be hiding something, a doctor (Leslie Odom Jr) who seems shifty with his intentions, a mysterious American businessman (Johnny Depp), an Austrian professor (Willem Dafoe) who does not take kindly to race diversity, an arrogant princess (Judi Dench) and her servant (Olivia Colman), an assistant with a love for the drink (Josh Gad), a valet (Derek Jacobi), a strangely religious woman (Penélope Cruz) and a flirty jetsetter (Michelle Pfeiffer). Everyone seems guilty and the film zooms through the motions, giving unfortunately little time to developing the characters enough to match the pedigree of the dazzling cast.
Those who aren’t familiar with the book will be entertained by the ultimate reveal, which still remains one of the all time great twists in murder mystery literature. The film does well to keep the mystery tightly wrapped, saving the best for the very last in grand Poirot fashion. Branagh’s Poirot is a fun rendition of the detective, the cameras celebrating his mustache as often as possible, even though he’s not as memorable as, say, Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes.
Fans of the book, however, will be hard pressed to love the movie instead of the ‘one time watch’ they would consider this to be. There’s a lot of talking that happens but there’s not enough tension to sustain the overlong talky sequences.
Moreover, the over use of CGI to fill in the period details is something that sticks out like a sore thumb. The lack of time devoted to the characters gets frustrating every time the film tends to render an emotional undercurrent because you don’t feel for anyone in the film. This is a problem considering the murder in question is based on an emotional outburst.
Compare this to the TV show Poirot which was delightfully slow and deliberate, and allowed David Suchet to function like a real human instead of a ‘superhero movie detective’ that Branagh is in this film.
The finale hints towards Poirot being called for a little assignment in Egypt, which is a clear indication that this is just the start of a franchise. If Branagh wants to take things to another level with these movies, he should try and tackle The Murder of Roger Ackroyd considering the potentially ‘unfilmable’ aspect of the big reveal.