Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” paints a suitable picture of a classic murder mystery. It stars Branagh as the famed detective Hercule Poirot and he has one of the most talented ensemble casts you’ll see all year. Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Leslie Odom Jr., Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Willem Dafoe play a group of passengers on the Orient Express, a train in which Poirot finds himself on in search of a short vacation from solving mysteries.
Branagh’s direction of Orient Express creates a sinister atmosphere after the train finds itself caught in an avalanche and ends up stuck in the mountains, leaving the passengers and Poirot all trapped together with a dead man, who was killed the in the middle of night. Poirot then must investigate every person as everyone becomes a suspect. While the movie focuses intently on the mystery being solved in a timely manner (the story takes place over three days), the ending drags on and on. I believe I heard Poirot ask aloud “Who killed him?” maybe three times around the climax of the film.
The characters, while somewhat memorable and distinct from one another, aren’t given much screentime enough to truly build up suspense and follow along with the mystery. This could be due to a runtime of slightly less than two hours, or with the general insistence of the film to follow Poirot’s train of thought as he deduces the crime, leaving the other characters with a limited chance to make their screentime notable.
However, while the film lacks a character-driven narrative, it does focus very well on the central character of Poirot. Branagh shines in the featured role, portraying Poirot in his quirky nature similar to the novels, while also bringing life and passion to a character beaten to death by adaptations. His interaction with the other passengers of the train appears so unnatural, and yet it’s all fluid as part of Poirot’s plan to find the murderer.
The aforementioned adaptations do call into question the necessity of this film. One can’t really fault a film just because it’s a remake, but this is now the fourth time it has been made into a movie, with several radio and TV adaptations as well. The story, while legendary, can run dry because there’s really nothing new or exciting about the film, which directly translates the plot of the novel into cinema. This may be a nitpicky fault, but it’s not often that a movie really feels unnecessary.
While the premise offers nothing new, it still is a wonderfully shot film. The grand scale of the angles that Branagh takes makes the setting seem larger than just one location (a majority of the movie is shot on the stuck train). Also, the movie’s coloring is absolutely astonishing, contrasting the white cascading mountains surrounding the train with the blue and red hues outside and inside the train.
Is this a bad movie? No. But it doesn’t hold up enough to really be considered any fresh and exciting given its history of adaptations and its lack of separation from any of the other Orient Express works. It’s a good watch if you enjoy the novels, but there are just simply better films to watch in theaters.