Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Michael Green
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley
Released: November 9, 2017
Grade: B-

Murder on the Orient Express
I’m a fan of a good old fashioned “who done it?”  You size up the suspects, look at their motives and give it your best shot in identifying the killer.  For those who have read the 1934 Agatha Christie novel, seen the 1974 feature film or watched the 2001 television movie, there won’t be many surprises here.  Screenwriter Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049) has stuck with the source material and the 1930s setting.

When not sitting in the director’s chair, Kenneth Branagh also slips into the shoes of the film’s protagonist, Hercule Poirot.  The first impression he gives off is one of arrogance.  He has impeccably high standards, loves to show off, and calls himself “the greatest detective in the world.”  He’s not someone I’d share a dinner table with.

It’s not long before you realise that the hype around Poirot is warranted.  Travelling from Istanbul to Calais on the famous Orient Express train service, his legendary detective skills are called upon when a passenger (Depp) is murdered in the middle of the night.  His body, complete with several stab wounds, was found in his locked compartment.

There are roughly a dozen passengers on board the carriage and over the course of day, Poirot will interrogate each of them.  It’s not long before many secrets come out into the open.  Complicating matters is the deceased man himself – an art dealer with a shady past.  He’d amassed many enemies which only added to the number of possible motives.

Perhaps my expectations were too high but I was a little underwhelmed by Murder on the Orient Express.  Kenneth Branagh tries to milk humour from his character’s self-important nature but it’s not as funny as it could be.  Only a handful of moments were worthy of a smile.  With so many high profile actors in the cast, the screen time is split and no one gets a chance to stand out.  If I had to pick a favourite, I’d lean towards Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as a young governess who has fallen in love.

There’s also something disappointing about the simplistic ease in which Poirot puts the pieces of the puzzle together.  I realise he’s a light-hearted fictional character but it feels like he knows the answer to every question before he asks it.  There are a couple of scenes where we see him stress but they are even less authentic given his telepathic abilities.  If they’d brought him into their ranks on a show like CSI: NY, every mystery would be solved with 5 minutes.

The film’s strongest attribute is its setting.  Most events takes place aboard the old-school train and the camera weaves up, down and above the narrow corridors and passageways.  Part of me would love to take a journey like that one day…. well, except without the murder.  It’d be nice to enjoy a three-course meal in the dining carriage while looking out across the snow-covered mountain ranges of Europe.

Shot using 65mm film cameras (as opposed to digital), Murder on the Orient Express looks great but struggle to deliver on its early intrigue.