Based on the novel by Agatha Christie, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ sees Kenneth Branagh takes center stage as Hercule Poirot, a famously talented detective, who is aboard a lavish train through Europe when he is confronted with a horrific crime — a crime which he must then race to solve before the killer steps off on the next platform.
Featuring a star-studded cast, the likes of Judi Dench (Princess Dragomiroff) and Michelle Pfeiffer (Mrs. Hubbard) may have felt criminally underused if that wasn’t the point. The entire cast certainly goes above and beyond with what individual opportunities they’re given, but they truly shine as an ensemble, working together as seamlessly as the shots passing through the cabins are executed.
It can be a little underwhelming, especially considering the sheer amount of talent aboard that train and how much screen time is spent panning over them in suspicious silence, just as soon as it can be a bit much with so much of said talent crammed into one space. However, there’s no sense of competition; everyone lifts each other up throughout their performances, culminating in possibly one of the most gorgeous scenes in the film — a meaningful ‘Last Supper’-esque shot during which a confrontation between Poirot and all the passengers takes place.
While at times he did resemble an impression of Lumiere from ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ Branagh’s ability to juggle humor and drama set him far apart from that early on. He feels slightly influenced by the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, if a little more chipper, but no less blunt. Even so, doubling as director and lead actor, Branagh was fun and charismatic to behold with a commanding presence onscreen that, as an audience member, spoke to his abilities to multitask throughout the making of this film. After all, anyone can see that the movie is visually striking, but beyond that, it’s perfectly paced — one of the most refreshing book-to-film adaptations in some time. With no worries about spacing events out for a series or trilogy, this was able to be a complete and satisfying story.
For those who say film is for people who can’t read, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ may just as well be as captivating a watch as a read.
The experience is immersive, a fact definitely helped by all the dynamic shots through the train’s cramped quarters and the flowing score that accompanies them. The story trails breadcrumbs behind it as it picks up steam (admittedly it’s a little slow to start), allowing the audience to feel as if they’re solving the mystery alongside Poirot himself. If you pay close attention (or if you have the advantage of having read the novel), you can sit back and admire the subtle groundwork for the conclusion that the script lays all along the way. Nothing is left to chance, both in front of the camera and in the story, as well as behind it.
Clever, attentive to detail and family friendly, it’s not exactly the classic we might have all been hoping for — but it has its moments and definitely deserves credit where it’s due. It’s elegant and sophisticated, almost to the point of being style over substance, until the performances draw everything back in just in time. Josh Gad (McQueen), Daisy Ridley (Mary Debenham) and Leslie Odom Jr. (Colonel Arbuthnot) may have been the closest to standouts, however, with each of their performances surprising and compelling in ways you’ll just have to see for yourself.
The hype leading up to it may have been a bit much, but those who like a good, easy time of solving mysteries will likely enjoy this; if anything, the scenery lends itself to being a cozy movie for the holidays to come. Ultimately though, Branagh is clearly able to pull off remaking classics from ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ to ‘Cinderella’ without bending and compromising his own vision, as seen by how crisp and vibrant the scope and feel of his films are, which begs the question: what’s next?
‘Murder On The Orient Express’ is
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