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“Murder on the Orient Express” Review

By Kelson Howerton
On November 16, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express is a film based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.
Photo By Nerd Reactor

Famous crime novelist Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted to film yet again, this time thanks to the directorial talent of Kenneth Branagh. Known for his adaptations of classic works of literature (“Macbeth,” “Hamlet,” “Henry V”), Branagh uses all his skills, both on and off screen, to bring this beloved murder-mystery into a stylish big screen spectacle. One half a charming murder-mystery with eccentric characters, one half a boring and forgettable slog through director Kenneth Branagh’s ego, “Murder on the Orient Express” is a fun detective drama that mostly delights despite its many flaws.

    Kenneth Branagh also lends his acting skills to the role of legendary detective Hercule Poirot. While he is given a few too many philosophical monologues for myself to stomach, Branagh’s detective is the highlight of the film. He is clever, charming, and infinitely perceptive, and it’s a joy to watch him unravel the clues that no one else on the elegant Orient Express could.

    While Branagh’s Poirot is the star of the film, he is also joined by an insanely star-studded cast of equally eccentric and archetypal passengers that become suspects when one of the train’s occupants becomes the victim of a grisly murder. Among these suspects is a warm and friendly governess (Daisy Ridley), a learned and respectable doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), a husband-hunting aristocrat (Michelle Pfeiffer), an elegant and demanding princess (Judi Dench), a slimy art dealer (Johnny Depp), and his quiet and nervous assistant (Josh Gad), among others.

    When these characters are on screen, they are mostly a delight. However, this cast doesn’t come without its caveats. Because of the sheer amount of characters crammed into the cramped passenger train, none of them, apart from Poirot and the victim of the crime, actually get much time to shine, ultimately making them forgettable background characters.

    While the characters oftentimes fail to deliver, “Murder on the Orient Express” has stylish visuals that never fail to impress. Set in a beautifully realized world heightened by the film’s superb set, costume, and production design, “Murder on the Orient Express” was filmed in 65-millimeter, giving the film a deeply cinematic cinemascope-feel that perfectly lends itself to format of the crime classic. 

    This format and Branagh’s directorial prowess made for some beautifully impressive shots as the camera winds through the long and crowded Orient Express. While everything on the train itself is beautifully detailed, the CG backdrops to the train’s journeys felt just a little out of place.

    Unfortunately, the film’s story does not hold up as well under pressure as its characters and visuals. One moment full of laughs and the other with the horrors of murder, “Murder on the Orient Express” never fully commits to the tone of a quirky, light-hearted murder-mystery or that of a darker crime drama, creating some awkward tonal shifts throughout the film. 

    Even worse, the film fails to create the suspense audiences of mysteries have come to expect. As the film follows Poirot throughout every step of the detective process, explaining every detail along the way, the audience is left with little room to solve the mystery for themselves, as every twist and turn down the train tracks of the crime are plainly telegraphed, making Poirot’s final solution to the crime fall flat in the end.

    A murder mystery where the charm of the film is not the mystery itself, but the detective’s eccentrically charming personality and unparalleled proclivity for detective work, Branagh’s almost one-man-show “Murder on the Orient Express” is a sometimes-enjoyable take on a “whodunnit” classic. However, Branagh’s acting and directing talent alone was not enough to completely overshadow the otherwise disjointed film. While not at all a bad film, “Murder on the Orient Express’s” biggest crime is failing to stand out as a memorable addition to the many adaptations of this great work.

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