Murder on the Orient Express (2017) FILM REVIEW
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay by Michael Green based upon the novel by Agatha Christie
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Jr.
Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements
Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
**1/2 out of *****
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Detective Hercule Poirot, played by Kenneth Branagh, must solve a mystery before the killer strikes again in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.
The murder mystery or "whodunit" film has often been reliable escapist cinematic fare since the dawn of cinema. Many great murder mystery films have enthralled, intrigued and sometimes shocked moviegoers throughout the decades. In the 1940s and 1950s we saw films such as REAR WINDOW, PSYCHO, and AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Decades later in the 1990s, filmmakers gave us some memorable mysteries such as PRIMAL FEAR, PRESUMED INNOCENT and THE USUAL SUSPECTS. A number of the titles mentioned were based upon novels and perhaps one author who is seemingly synonymous with the genre is Agatha Christie. Christie's work has been adapted into films many times and her quintessential creation Hercule Poirot has appeared numerous times on both the big and small screens. Actor/Director Kenneth Branagh brings Christie and Poirot back to the big screen in an all new star-filled adaptation of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. However, the mysterious fact that the film itself was, as Poirot would say, "imbalanced" is a mystery unto itself.
In the film, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is called upon to investigate a murder on the Orient Express. Using his world-renowned deductive skills, Poirot must piece together the clues and determine who amongst the passengers was behind the heinous act. Lacking the foreknowledge of the novel and the 1974 adaptation, one wouldn't be faulted for expecting a film full of twists and turns. Unfortunately, many of the film's twists and turns are neither shocking or unexpected. It's really hard to say if the problem lies with the source material or how it was adapted. The former could be due to one's familiarity with the tropes of the genre which have been overwrought throughout time. The latter could be due to the fact that one could very well find themselves two steps ahead resulting in a less than shocking revelation. In the case of this film it was a combination of both. By comparison Branagh's own mystery DEAD AGAIN, written by Scott Frank, was a much more engrossing affair which was far from predictable, kept you guessing and delivered the sort of "a-ha" ending one hopes for from a film of this type.
The ORIENT EXPRESS features an all-star cast starting with Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot. Branagh is great as "the world's greatest detective" and brings a certain swagger, charm and weariness to the character. Poirot may seem a bit conceited but because Branagh really shows how his mind works, one sees how brilliant of a mind he is and can find enjoyment when he puts anyone who underestimates him in their place. The film is clearly Poirot's show so he must have a cadre of suspects to interrogate. These suspects are played by Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom, Jr., Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi and Olivia Colman. Unfortunately amongst the ensemble, Branagh excluded, there aren't any real standouts in terms of performances. The characters are rather threadbare and often feel like mere "suspect" caricatures.
Branagh the director does a commendable job of bringing the period piece back to the big screen. Partnering with cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos he finds many interesting ways to capture action in tight spaces. From the long tracking shot of Poirot boarding the train to a birds-eye-view of Poirot examining a crime scene in a cabin to the close up of Poirot's face as he tries to come to terms with what he has unearthed the film is always visually engaging. Of note, it looks fantastic when viewed in 70mm. The mystery itself as adapted by Michael Green isn't as engaging as it could have been which again may be the result of the source material being a bit old-fashioned. Ultimately, Branagh's performance as Poirot, mustache and all, is likely the best reason to see the film. However, as previously mentioned, if you find yourself a few steps ahead of the film there will be a lack of surprises, unfortunate predictability and as Poirot says "imbalance."
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal