Kenneth Branagh adapts Agatha Christie’s popular novel Murder on the Orient Express, following on from Sidney Lumet who offered his own take on the tale back in 1974. This endeavour represents somewhat throwaway entertainment, that while engaging for the most part, fails to make use of the staggeringly impressive cast that’s been assembled.
Branagh plays the lead role of Hercule Poirot, the world’s most renowned detective, who is called on business to London, and so takes the last available room on the Orient Express, thanks to his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman). Though wanting nothing more than to relax and enjoy his journey, he inadvertently finds himself working, when one of the passengers, the mobster Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is mysteriously killed. Stranded due to an avalanche, he’s provided the time, but not the tools to get to the bottom of this elusive series of events, interviewing each of the passengers to get to the bottom of this murky affair.
Could it be Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley)? Or perhaps, it was Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz) or Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench)? Or maybe even Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad) or Edwards Masterman (Derek Jacobi)? One thing that is for certain, is that if anyone is to solve this riddle, it’ll be the man twirling his distinctive, overstated moustache.
With a cast also consisting of the likes of Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe and Sergei Polunin amongst many others, The Murder of the Orient Express is a deliciously kitsch affair, and affectionately so – with perhaps the only criticism in that department being that it doesn’t play up to its absurdity quite enough. Branagh makes use of the lighting and costumes effectively though, revelling in the tropes of the film noir genre to make for a lovingly crafted pastiche. Branagh himself is emblematic of this approach, so gloriously over the top in his depiction, wandering around with a moustache so lavish it wouldn’t look out of place sitting above the lip of a hipster barista.
The director uses space well too, for this narrative unfolds, mostly, in narrow hallways of a train and yet somehow this doesn’t feel too claustrophobic. Branagh should also be commended for the way he utilises a tale that consists of such a myriad of characters, and while some are barely given any screen time, most feel substantially explored. After all, with this many characters to invest in, it’s near-impossible to ensure they’re all given equal billing, which does make you wonder why they didn’t turn this tale into a TV series, allowing more time and freedom to explore those who make up this story.
Though quite why this was even remade in the first place is a question that lingers somewhat unfavourably over proceedings. It’s a film that doesn’t exactly warrant a second viewing, as you’d be unlikely to want to watch this again after the big reveal is made, as this film is constructed and manufactured solely for that purpose, an archetypal whodunnit. So, if you’re already accustomed with this narrative and you know very well whodunnit, then there’s little here to take away. Because when you know, you know, and once that’s the case, there’s not an awful lot left to savour.
Murder on the Orient Express is released on November 3rd.