MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (7.5/8 out of 10) Directed by Kenneth Branagh; Written by Michael Green; Starring Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz; Willem Dafoe; Judi Dench; Johnny Depp; Josh Gad; Derek Jacobi; Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer; Daisy Ridley Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements; Running time 114 min.
Big Shiny Robot: Murder on the Orient Express tells the tale of renowned detective Hercule Poirot’s exploits in solving a murder aboard the Orient Express. He pieces the story together and narrows the suspects down until the ultimate unveiling of responsible party. It’s a classic mystery set in the 1930s with all of the conventions you’d expect from a film set in the genre and era.
Kelly: Directed by and starring Shakespeare enthusiast Kenneth Branagh as the mustachioed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, Murder on the Orient Express takes us on a lavish train ride occupied by a bevy of talented actors. Dame Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi, both of whom never seem to age. The new-on-the-scene Daisy Ridley, taking a break from Jedi training to play a governess. Johnny Depp is slimy Mr. Ratchett, and Michelle Pfeiffer is on the prowl. She also sings the song “Home” that is played over the credits.
What a treat to go into Murder on the Orient Express not knowing whodunit. Though I read the book for English class in high school, I could not recall the ending. So, I tried to channel my inner Nancy Drew to follow the clues.
Bryan: Being overly familiar with the source material, particularly the 1974 version starring Albert Finney and Sidney Lumet, I’d been aware of the ending and it’s easy to see how apparent Branagh was threading those clues through the film, but I felt there was too much information that Poirot pulled out of thin air from the case that wouldn’t allow the audience a reasonable chance at guessing what was happening or going on. The most novel thing about this new adaptation is Branagh’s portrayal of Poirot, which I found fascinating.
Kelly: Poirot is a man who must have balance in his life. A crooked tie or disproportionate eggs set his world askew. And so he attempts to balance the scales of justice once a passenger on the train is murdered. With everyone trapped by an avalanche, he must piece together clues as he interviews the passengers one by one. It’s been so long since I’ve read the book that I can’t speak to Branagh’s interpretation of Christie’s protagonist, but I thought his portrayal full of personality. He’s particular but not so odd that he has no friends and is disliked. He is deservedly proud of his achievements but shows a hint of vulnerability when in solitude.
The rest of the cast doesn’t benefit from such depth, but I quite understand that with a large ensemble cast that can be difficult. When they do appear, all but Josh Gad bring their characters to life in small ways. The speech and deportment of the governess, with her perfect clothes and makeup. Penelope Cruz delivers one-liners that reveal her religious devotion, but the timing and the reaction shots make them almost comical. Gad was the one weak link. I simply cannot take him seriously. To me, he’s Olaf and Lefou.
Bryan: I thought the rest of the cast was fine, but Branagh organized the movie in such a way that they just don’t have the attention paid to them that they needed to fully realize the film. The stand out for me in the supporting cast, other than the reliably wonderful Willem Dafoe, was Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom, Jr.. She had a curious coyness to her and he had a strength that came across in every scene.
Kelly: The film’s other shining star is the cinematography. Beautiful skies and pristine snow. And a variety of interesting camera angles.
Bryan: My frustration with the film comes in the balance of tone. When Branagh is throttling the charm and comedy the film is perfect, but he wobbled too far into that lane so the serious moments almost don’t hit right. There’s a moment where he has a significant crisis of conscious and it’s meant to be an emotional climax, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights it needs to because of the uneven tone of the film. And there was nothing really additionally ambitious about this film. You’d be equally entertained watching the previous adaptation, possibly more so. When a film is remade, I have to ask, “What does this add to the story?” And I’m left wondering what this added.
Bryan: Aside from the unneven tone, the film was largely a joy to watch. There was nothing in the script that felt out of place and everything made a logical sense, even if Poirot made leaps of logic with information that the audience had no chance of understanding or guessing. It kept a smile on my face throughout, even if the dramatic climaxes fell flat. I’d judge this film a solid 7.5. I’d have a hard time feeling like I’d need to watch it again, though I would welcome more Poirot adventures featuring Branagh.
Kelly: I also enjoyed it immensely. It had the feel of a classic film, and I thought Patrick Doyle’s score the perfect accompaniment. 8 out of 10.