Dir: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Willem Defoe, Leslie Odom Jr, Michelle Pffeifer
Full disclosure: I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel, never watched Poirot, and I’ve never seen any other version of Murder On The Orient Express. Going in to the cinema I did not know the ending; I did not know the who of the whodunit. I have though seen a lot of television and movies which were very obviously influenced by Christie and her works. The now familiar and over used tropes of the murder mystery are very much known to me. Now, with that being said, I was intrigued by the trailer, the music used and the use of the blue neon pop ups told me to expect something new. In this respect I was mis-sold the movie.
The movie centres around Hercule Poirot, played here by director Kenneth Branagh with the most ridiculous moustache committed to film. Poirot is, in his own words, probably the greatest detective in the world. Poirot is a man who craves order, and is driven crazy by anything out of place, which makes his normal life a nightmare but gives him the perfect skillset as a detective. After solving a case at The Wailing Wall; in an opening which sets the tone for the rest of the movie: old fashioned, epic sweep, shot through with class and grandeur; Poirot is ready for a rest, but is soon interrupted in Istanbul where he is called to another case. To get to his destination he will have to take a journey on the Orient Express. Luckily he is friends with the trains director who gets him the last place in first class. It is here where we meet the real drawing power of the film: its Star Power.
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pffeifer, Dame Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Leslie Odom Jr, Willem Defoe, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gadd, Derek Jacobi, and Olivia Coleman fill out the cast/suspects, as one of them is murdered during an avalanche which leaves the train stuck. It is here where Branagh’s direction really comes alive, getting great performances from all members of his cast, and striking a great balance between the epic sweep of the earlier scenes, and the claustrophobic nature of the train carriage. Everyone is a suspect, and the second act of the film settles into an enjoyable murder mystery. The problems soon start to appear though. The films greatest asset becomes its greatest weakness, there are too many characters. The actors do great work, but with giving them all a chance to shine, the characters become very thinly drawn stereotypes.
The biggest problem comes with the reveal. In trying to achieve a finale with an emotional impact it only half succeeds. I didn’t feel like I was invested enough in the characters to really feel the full force of the blow, and it raised some questions about how realistic the solution was, which belied how intelligent the rest of the film had been constructed and how intelligent Poirot was supposed to be. It becomes an odd tonal bump, if the joy in a murder mystery is in how you’ve been tricked, the moment where you realise the answer had been right under your nose the whole time, I couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated. It made sense in an emotional way, but I didn’t feel like the rest of the film had earnt that emotional end, especially at the cost of the more cerebral one I had hoped for.
I enjoyed this movie, but I didn’t love it. There were two things glaringly out of place: the title cards, and the credits. Both in the glaring blue neon of the trailer and the posters. This is an old fashioned prestige picture, with real class in front of and behind the camera. It was sold as a new take on a well trodden path, but this film treads the same path in much the same manner as audiences have seen before. That it does so with grace is commendable, it is a true “they don’t make them like they used to” picture, but I would have preferred something new.