Murder on the Orient Express review: Kenneth Branagh goes full steam ahead on his updated, flashy version of the classic Agatha Christie story.
Murder on the Orient Express review by Paul Heath.
Kenneth Branagh unites an all-star cast for another retelling of Agatha Christie‘s murder-mystery, forty-three years after the last big-screen adaptation, but only seven since its last small screen outing with 2010’s David Suchet adventure.
Branagh, who produces, directs and stars as the lead, the ridiculously moustached world-famous detective Hercule Poirot, creates an entertaining trip, Logan, Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049 scribe Michael Green adapting Christie’s 1934 novel, a whodunnit that everyone knows whodunnit.
We are introduced to Branagh’s new Poirot at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem where he is wrapping up a case involving a priest, a rabbi and an imam – a new prologue created by Green specifically for this movie. Solving that dilemma with apparent ease, in a sequence which works rather well, Poirot is summoned back to London, and after reaching Istanbul boards the famous Orient Express where he is gifted a last-minute spot.
Joining him on his journey through wintery climbs up to Paris are a bunch of very different passengers, including shadowy art dealer Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) who almost immediately proposes a business deal to Poirot as he boards – the opportunity to be his personal bodyguard on the three-day trip north. Poirot politely declines over some coffee and cake, preferring to enjoy his ‘holiday’ and tuck up with some Dickens in his cabin.
Things take a turn for the worse the next morning, the train not only stuck in a mountain’s worth of fallen snow but with Ratchett suddenly turning up dead with multiple stab wounds as he slept in bed. On the suspect list are our ensemble, the dazzling decadent cast that includes Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr., Derek Jacobi, Marwan Kenzari, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Sergei Polunin, and Branagh’s Poirot has no choice but to take on the case to try to decipher who killed the dodgy dealer before the train pulls into its final destination.
With the countless TV, film, stage and radio adaptations, as well as the original tome, it’s very difficult not to know the ending of perhaps Agatha Christie’s greatest work, so Kenneth Branagh’s new film isn’t so much about the destination or revolve, but its journey leading to it. Already an accomplished tentpole filmmaker with recent big-budget efforts like Thor and Cinderella managing to deliver in recent years, Branagh is the obvious choice for a new imagining of the well-known 1934 work, and here he throws every trick in the book at the screen. Cue epic, sweeping shots of mountain vistas, glorious special effects and a camera that is put in every nook and cranny of the four-coach train to maximise the cinematic quality.
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It all looks very nice indeed, the CGI not to be faulted and the cinematography rather inventive from frequent Branagh collaborator Haris Zambarloukos, but this new version of Murder On The Orient Express lacks a certain something to give it that bit of oomph to get it up to full speed.
Branagh is perfectly fine as a Poirot for the new generation, and his cast quite good in their individual roles, particularly Michelle Pfeiffer’s vampy Caroline Hubbard, a role made famous by Lauren Bacall in the seventies’ version of the story. Depp is well cast as the mumbling gangster who we know is about to see his end, and there are also another couple of firm stand-outs, including Judi Dench’s Princess Dragomiroff and Cruz’s Pilar Estravados, but due to the scale of the cast and the nature of the source material, none are given a huge amount of screen time for the characters to overly develop.
The script is inventive, choosing to use different settings, both inside and outside the train, rather than having Poirot simply sat at a different table in the carriages as he interviews each suspect. There’s some nice set design by Rebecca Alleway and Alexandra Byrne’s costumes are simply divine.
With some much glitz and glamour from its cast and technical side, there’s still just a little bit more pizazz and a few more edge of the seat, heart pounding moments needed to inject a little excitement into proceedings. A brief sequence involving Gad’s Hector MacQueen attempts to do this halfway through, and there are a few bits here and there which manage to break a sometimes unspectacular cycle.
As we roll towards our obvious conclusion there’s nothing massively damaging to hurt this ample retelling of the vintage tale, but there’s nothing new brought to the table either. As it stands Murder On The Orient Express 2017 is an enjoyable take on an 80-odd year old story that is worth the price of the fare, just don’t bank on a return journey.
Murder on the Orient Express review by Paul Heath, November 2017.
Murder on the Orient Express is released in UK cinemas on Friday 3rd November 2017.