Well-groomed but not the smoothest ride.
As I’ve stated before, adapting treasured literature into a film is always a tall order. The studio and filmmakers want to make a movie that will not only satisfy fans of the work, but will also appeal to mainstream audiences. This seems nearly impossible for the works of Agatha Christie, as Christie purists are notoriously snobbish in regards to adapting her work. If there were ever a person who could do it, however, it would be celebrated actor and director Sir Kenneth Branagh. Surely a knighted man could faithfully adapt one of Christie’s most famous novels and remake the classic 1974 critically acclaimed film, Murder on the Orient Express, right?
Murder on the Orient Express sees famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) traveling from Israel after for his upcoming holiday after expertly solving another case. He does so aboard the Orient Express, a luxurious but overcrowded train holding a wide array of passengers. One night after the train is derailed due to a snow storm, a passenger is discovered dead. Believed to be murdered, Poirot takes the case to solve the murder on the Orient Express.
The first quality of the film that must be noted is its grand settings and slick look. Shots of the city of Israel, the main train station, the snowy mountains, and the sets of the train cabins are nothing short of award worthy. They transport you to the film’s setting in the 1930s, and Branagh’s excellent staging makes you too feel as if you are a passenger aboard this claustrophobic train. There’s not doubt the film is beautiful to look at, and is the epitome of stylish to say the very least.
The all star ensemble cast delivers when necessary, but it’s Daisy Ridley and Michelle Pfeiffer as Mary Debenham and Caroline Hubbard respectively who make the most of their limited screen time. Ridley proves there’s a future for her beyond Star Wars, and Pfeiffer continues her career renaissance with her performance. Though the film’s advertising highlights Johnny Depp as one of the main characters in the film, he’s hardly in it. But he too shines as the gangster Samuel Ratchett in the film, showing that somewhere buried deep within him there is still a man who can deliver an excellent performance.
Of course, the main star of the film other than his trademark mustache is Branagh as Poirot. Branagh is one of our finest actors living today, and does a splendid job as the famed detective. He is able to deliver scenes of intensity and scenes highlighting Poirot’s unique intricacies with ease, showcasing both his dramatic and comedic range. Branagh is also able to put the audience in Poirort’s shoes as he tries to uncover the mystery, and you too have as difficult a time piecing all of the evidence together, which also shows Poirot as vulnerable for the first time in his life despite his reputation.
While I stated earlier that the ensemble cast does their job, some members of the cast do feel underused. Penélope Cruz seems to fall victim the most to this as a missionary aboard the train, and feels as if she was cast to sell the movie despite not putting her academy award winning talent to much use. Dame Judi Dench also feels under utilized in the film, as her role as a snobbish Princess doesn’t quite resonate the way Judi Dench should resonate as we have grown accustomed to.
Having never read the book nor seen the 1974 Sidney Lumet directed version, I cannot necessarily say Agatha Christie fans will be pleased with every aspect of the film, but that is to be expected whenever adapting famed literature into a mainstream film. However, I would love to ask readers of the novel and Christie purists if the twists and reveal of who committed the crime pay off better in the book, as those reveals don’t payoff as much as they should upon being revealed. I felt I should’ve been shocked or at the very least felt a gut punch in the film’s climatic discoveries, but that unfortunately did not happen.
Overall, Murder on the Orient Express is a solid re-make and adaptation. It’s a glossy, well-groomed whodunit that doesn’t have the climax one anticipates after watching the film. Murder on the Orient Express may not be the smoothest ride, but its solid ensemble cast, terrific lead performance, and elaborate visuals and sets more than make up for its underwhelming final outcome.
Rating: 2.5/4 Stars. Pay Matinée Price.
Murder on the Orient Express stars Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. It is in theaters November 10th.