Image: Kenneth Branagh & Daisey Ridley get acquainted. [Source: IMDB]
Murder on the Orient Express directed by Kenneth Branagh follows the famous Agatha Christie detective Hercule Poirot (also played by Branagh) as he finishes up a case and is travelling to his vacation destination accompanied by a spectrum of characters, but when a murder on the train occurs it falls to him to solve the case.
Director: Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Daisey Ridley [12A]
I should start with making it clear that I have not seen any of the previous versions of this film or read the original novel, however, I do know a little about the character and the reception of previous films. I think it’s only right to start by talking about our main star of the show, Kenneth Branagh and Poirot.
Simply put, Branagh pulls the entire film together with his talent and his demonstrated passion for the source material and this movie. In his acting, Branagh clearly understands what makes this character sit with people and why people want to see him. This is expressed in how Branagh chooses to play Poirot’s exquisite mind as a haunting gift that plagues him but also gives him life (akin to Sherlock Holmes). Branagh plays him with gravitas but is not afraid to have some fun with the character – the loud moustache being one of them. Branagh seems to border along comedic parody when the film starts out but seemingly as he or us the audience settle into the character, he begins to really shine. Particularly when the character is under stress, Branagh really shows his acting talent and Poirot is at his most captivating.
In his directing Branagh shows he understands the feeling and tone of Agatha Christie’s material but fails to engage us with it, the plot and the pace of the movie play out like a classic who done it, such as Clue (Dir. Lynn.1985) which is to the movies’ credit. It does not try to modernise the film which admittedly begs the question “so what was the point in the remake” but it suits the type of movie it is and would feel amiss without its old-school taste. His directing of the colour palette of the movie, the exquisitely captured production design and costume design are all handed perfectly. The cinematography further captures these and presents us with stunning vistas that play into the plot and help the impact of the story, furthered by these fantastic shots that play into the classic tone of the film or its likening to a board game (bird’s-eye view sequences). Despite the great execution of these elements for a lot of the movie, I felt disengaged.
The backdrop of colourful characters to Poirot is filled with famous faces and acting charisma, everyone from Dame Judi Dench to Johnny Depp and new talent Star Wars‘s Daisey Ridley. Each character is given their moments to tell the audience who they are so to speak, but you realise that none are as fleshed out as they needed to be – to have you trying to guess who the murder is. I found myself trying to guess just based on who had been shown the least or who would it be if the movie is trying to outsmart me, as some characters just sort of sit around and play into old school caricatures. While this is somewhat of a negative point and in the last act of the film, I found myself question why a certain character would commit murder as it did not make sense – but alas by the end of the movie you find that Branagh knows the audience will think this way and beats you over the head with your assumptions that are quick to point the finger at a character as the murderer.
It’s delightfully smart in that regard but fails to really save any of the supporting cast, there are moments where they are seemingly given their chance to shine and pile on the tension in the movie and have us all second guessing but no really brings anything to the table. The performances are all fine but I didn’t ever feel like they were all enjoying their roles and none of them is given any juicy scenes outside of Daisey Ridley’s scenes with Branagh, but again these just fall short of the mark.
Although this is an ‘updated’ version of the Murder on the Orient Express story, filled with big names and modern talent – the film plays out much like a classic movie. A Slow burning plot and a focus on the story and mystery rather than any action, which is to its credit, it can drag a little at times but its an entertaining watch but fails to do anything to marvel at.